50. Empress of – ‘I’m Your Empress Of’
What We Said…
For as long as she has been in our lives, producer and vocalist Lorely Rodriguez aka Empress Of has always been a boundary pusher of modern and contemporary music. Never quite settled into one particular direction, her first two albums 'Me' and 'Us' were a vast and explorative adventure through her own ambitions and interests, regularly landing us with a bright and eclectic mix of multiple ideas. But for this new collection, she looks to showcase more of her personal journey as 'I'm Your Empress Of' is more about paying tribute to the heritage and upbringing that brought her to this point in her career.
Opening up with a short spoken word verse from her own mother on the record's title-track, this new release instantly lets us know that this is more than just another broad and diverse selection of concepts, but something that Rodriguez feels is far more intimate than her usual output. Wrapped up in far more electro-focused base, which is there to pay homage to her Chicago house influences, 'I'm Your Empress Of' is a shining and uplifting selection of dynamic ideas that present her in a far more vulnerable guise as she continues to offer more of her own personal story to us through these new offerings.
Sonically, it may be moving very differently to much of her work to date, but the general tone of this release is simply irresistible. Empress Of has always been one to circumnavigate the commercial pop world, and it is records like this that show how easy it can be to deliver something with a mainstream edge that still holds true and authentic emotion.
49. Laura Marling – ‘Song For Our Daughter’
What We Said…
It almost feels that we have been watching Laura Marling evolve and mature as a songwriter throughout her life as much as she has. After first breaking through onto the scene as a teenager, Marling recently crossed the milestone into her thirties and surprising many that all this weary and rich music was written by someone so young in their career. But awards and accolades aside, Marling has always been one to push the boundaries of her sound with each and every release, which is exactly what we get with her seventh studio album 'Song For Our Daughter', the smooth and lofty full-length we need right now.
While Laura Marling is generally lumped into that faceless singer-songwriter grouping that feature so many lacklustre artists, she has always looked to be one step ahead of the curve by constantly looking to try something new and interesting to keep her fire alive. But 'Song For Our Daughter' seems to see her look backwards more often than not, generating homages to artists like Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Beck with its Americana-inspired direction. Yet although this familiar direction remains a constant throughout her latest record, she manages to add her own flair to it, almost reinventing it to deliver a warm and humble release that looks to seduce the listener at every turn.
There is this wonderfully simple element to each offering on 'Song For Our Daughter', showing us that great emotion and songwriting needn't be a pursuit toward broad and euphoric compositions, but can be found in the most minimal of guises. Laura Marling has this ability to channel the collective woes and triumphs of those around here, and give us a collection that feels more connected to us than most.
48. Hamilton Leithauser – ‘The Loves Of Your Life’
What We Said…
For a while there, it almost felt like we had lost Hamilton Leithauser for good. After a tremendous run of form with The Walkmen throughout the 2000s, his solo work quickly heralded in a new world for the frontman to conquer, which he definitely did with his 2016 LP 'I Had A Dream That You Were Mine'. But after nearly four years of silence, it began to feel like he had finally gone out on the high he always knew he would. But then suddenly, he was back in our lives and ready to share this; his fourth solo record 'The Loves Of Your Life', a release that feels like he has plenty of gold left to share.
Unlike his previous collections, this one was written and produced without his regular collaborator Rostam Batmanglij, but the producer's presence on this full-length can still be heard throughout. With every track, it feels like Hamilton is looking to carve his own path as a truly solo artist, which would explain why this one feels so much more diverse than his previous efforts. Rather than follow a specific idea and bear down on that, 'The Loves Of Your Life' feels far more explorative than we usually hear him and makes for a collection that occasionally unravels his influencers such as Bob Dylan and David Bowie.
From the start, it feels like Hamilton Leithauser is taking his place in the scene less seriously, opening up his mind to new and adventurous ideas that he has managed to carve into solid nuggets of multifaceted joy. 'The Loves Of Your Life' may be one of the first releases he has made completely alone, but it hasn't dampened his determination to create something truly wonderful throughout.
47. Cub Sport – ‘Like Nirvana’
What We Said…
Since the release of their breakthrough debut album 'This Is Our Vice' in 2016, three of the four members of Cub Sport have come out as gay. And although this has not done much to the sonic direction the band have taken since, frontman Tim Nelson's autobiographical nature towards his lyrics has pushed sexuality and diversity to the forefront of his mind as they look to become one of the more forward-thinking names in the scene right now. So with only an eighteen-month gap between their previous self-titled LP and now, Cub Sport return with 'LIKE NIRVANA', a record that looks to explore even more of their personal feelings and emotions.
Ever since they first took to the global arena, Cub Sport stood out so much with their effortless and vibrant alt-pop sound, and it feels that not much as changed since then. But while their earlier work usually went for louder and more provocative intentions, this new collection relies heavily on ballads and lovelorn aesthetics to draw you in. Filled with bright and atmospheric textures, layered amongst the free and ethereal vocals of Nelson, 'LIKE NIRVANA' feels like a bold and exciting leap forward for the group as they create one of their most consistent and succinct releases of their career so far.
Warm and inviting throughout, 'LIKE NIRVANA' is one of those rare records that hardly ever puts a foot wrong, allowing you to get right under its skin and let its light and buoyant flow wash right over you. This may be Cub Sport's fourth studio record in four years, but right now it feels as if that prolific energy is working just perfectly for them so far.
46. Dizzy – ‘The Sun And Her Scorch’
What We Said…
Since the release of their highly-applauded and appropriately named debut album 'Baby Teeth' in 2018, Toronto-based outfit Dizzy have found themselves the talk of the North American new music scene. Their initial release introduced us to their bright and sweeping indie-pop ways, but with that sudden surge of success came the inevitable pressure to go one step further on their follow-up in order to continue their positive momentum. So after a couple of years away from the studio, they now return with their sophomore outing 'The Sun And Her Scorch', a record that sees them mature far beyond their years.
From the start, it is clear that this is going to be a wildly different beast in terms of intent when compared to 'Baby Teeth'. With opener 'Worms' acting as the self-described theme of the new album, the track's smooth yet brooding intent pulls the listener into the damp underground to experience a feeling of isolation, claustrophobia, and suffocation; an initial jolt that sets the tone for this new collection. But while the band wish to create a more solemn release this time around, there are still plenty of moments that see them break away from their sonic path, with offerings such as 'The Magician' and closer 'Worms II' delivering a more euphoric punch.
It may have been built on a will to show the world what they are truly made of, but 'The Sun And Her Scorch' is a wonderfully dreamy masterpiece from a group we never had any doubt in. Diverse and complex throughout, there is a rarely a moment where this release falter and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen from start to finish.
45. Nadine Shah – ‘Kitchen Sink’
What We Said…
Over the last few years, Nadine Shah has been one of those acts that just seems to be getting better and more renowned with everything she creates. While her stunning 2013 debut album 'Love Your Dum And Mad' certainly began to pique the interest of many tastemakers on the underground circuit, it was her third studio release in 2017, 'Holiday Destination', that saw her thrust into the limelight, earning her a Mercury Prize nomination in the process. And after a few years to decide where to take her music next, she has returned with her fourth full-length 'Kitchen Sink', a record that sees her continue that joyous wit and charm.
As its name might allude to, 'Kitchen Sink' has been written and produced with a completely blank slate on every single song, meaning that while this release lacks a distinct direction or flow, it is more of an experimental journey for her to find a sound that she can fully absorb throughout. As a result, we are treated to a wild and adventurous ride through the mind of Nadine Shah, one that has more than a few choice points to make about the state of the world today. Exploring ideas and concepts such as prejudices, unsettled realities and wry social commentary, this new collection looks to be one that makes you think more about the subtle grievances in one's life than most.
And although this new release doesn't hit a bullseye on every occasion, it has this incredibly dense and progressive blues-rock intention that seems to bleed its way into every song, giving it a raw and emotional feel that we rarely hear these days. From the start, 'Kitchen Sink' is a true joy to listen to, filled with heartfelt grit and gusto like no other.
44. Dream Wife – ‘So When You Gonna…’
What We Said…
When the former Brighton university students Alice Go, Bella Podpadec and Rachel Mjöll released their self-titled debut album in 2018, I don't think even they were aware of the impact it would go onto have. While the riotous female-fronted punk band was always part of our scene, the majority of these femme icons resided on the other side of the Atlantic, meaning we usually felt more of a disconnect from the traditional British direction. But after just one album, Dream Wife quickly filled that gap on UK shores, and after a non-stop two years of touring and self-promotion, the trio return with their highly-anticipated follow-up 'So When You Gonna...'.
From the very start, 'So When You Gonna...' hits us with that undeniable Dream Wife swagger, one that instantly feels more refined when we first switch onto this new collection. While their debut record hit the right tone and energy throughout, there is something far more reassured about their sound on this sophomore release. Filled with that distinct punk-rock attitude throughout, the band look to create a record that darts between flippant sarcasm and deadly serious subject matter without a second thought, making for a light and enjoyable full-length that still has something important to say.
The multifaceted and varied direction on this new collection makes 'So When You Gonna...' a truly wondrous listen, and sees Dream Wife emerge from their musical adolescence with more bite than we could have imagined. The three-piece are clearly focused on how they want to sound more than most, and that makes for a bold and confident listen throughout.
43. Grimes – ‘Miss Anthropocene’
What We Said…
Ever since her earliest beginnings, Grimes has been this shapeshifting entity on the musical skyline, taking influence from numerous sources with a view not to imitate but to distort and deliver something far different from what anyone excepts of her. Yet despite being a truly prolific artist in her early years, releasing her first four studio albums within five years, she had been on a hiatus since 2015. Which became a time for her to reflect on herself and come to terms with the death of her longtime friend and manager Lauren Valencia. The resulting break has seen her return harder and darker than ever as 'Miss Anthropocene' marks the beginning of a new age for Grimes.
Her material has always had this brooding and pulsing edge to it, regular delving into a world of bleak and abstract ideas, but 'Miss Anthropocene' seems to see her plunge herself further than we have seen before. While it still features that same warming atmosphere, filled with eccentric and imaginative production, this new collection seems to have a far bigger identity to send than her previous records. Mixing in the crucial messages of climate change and appreciating your loved ones while you still have them makes for a more human experience as we now get to here her as a person with a voice rather than this extra-terrestrial being we are trying to decode.
Despite its diverse and multi-genred aesthetic, 'Miss Anthropocene' manages to flow and gel together better than most who have attempted this sound. With a progressive and ever-evolving feel to it, each track screams out to be heard over and over again, making for an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable listen.
42. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death’
What We Said…
Since the release of their highly-praised, Mercury Prize-nominated debut album 'Dogrel' last year, Dublin's Fontaines DC have found themselves as the future of the international post-punk scene. Building up an insatiable following over the last year and discovering more about how they want to sound everyday, the Irish outfit looked to waste no time within the momentum they have built as they return a little more than a year later with their sophomore full-length 'A Hero's Death', a record that looks to build upon the success of their debut while also giving it its own unique direction.
For fans of 'Dogrel', 'A Hero's Death' may come as a bit of a surprise as it starts off. While their initial material was loved for its dark yet powerful aesthetic, the majority of this new collection is more about exploring the darker and more brooding side to their intentions. Less visceral and more atmospheric throughout, this almost feels like a process of instant maturity as they look to see themselves more as innovators within the scene rather than the next name to come along. It almost feels as if they are making themselves work harder for their fans to appreciate them. Rather than knock out another batch of ear-pleasing belters to please the masses, this is about taking the next step, regardless of where it takes them.
Ultimately, 'A Hero's Death' sees the group veer into near-unknown territory, but not too far from their core sound that they can't rein it back into more familiar terrain. While it doesn't have many of the instant gut-punches that 'Dogrel' pulled out, it has a more reassured feel about it, knowing that all those listening are already strapped in and ready for the ride, and pursuing whatever idea best fits them right now.
41. Sløtface – ‘Sorry For The Late Reply’
What We Said…
After releasing their bold and impressive debut album 'Try Not To Freak Out' in 2017, Norwegian pop-punk outfit Sløtface made a solid and engaging introduction to their sound with a mix of socially conscious lyrics and frantic guitar riffs. Yet while that record was not the glittering commercial success that it deserved to be, the band have not lost faith in their raw and impassioned energy as they return with their sophomore effort 'Sorry For The Late Reply', a release that displays the maturity they have garnered in the last few years.
While the singles released prior to this album gave us the understanding that the band would be venturing in a vast and more progressive direction, the record's opener 'S.U.C.C.E.S.S.' delivers a fireball of frenzy that instantly reestablishes them with their formative guise. It is only from their that we get to hear this new and more contemplative Sløtface that the previews presented. Yet while this collection delivers more brooding and atmospheric additions than its debut, it is clear that the band have looked to create more than a one-trick-pony this time around, and instead showcase a broad and adventurous return that still maintains the creativity of their debut.
'Sorry For The Late Reply' is probably the most perfect follow-up to 'Try Not To Freak Out' as we could have hoped for. While they venture into very different sonic territory, this new offering shows that they are far from losing their spark for fresh and vibrant pop-rock anthems and continue to pack this release with more gems than we deserve.
40. Bully – ‘Sugaregg’
What We Said…
Since the release of their 2015 debut 'Feels Like', US rockers Bully have always been seen as mix of frontwoman Alicia Bognanno's own venting cannon and a full-piece group of fanatical musicians. But over the years, Bognanno's influence over the band became more centralised as she became the group's chief songwriter and producer, and her mental health began to suffer as a result. So after three years away from the studio and the woman at the helm able to find herself once again, they return with 'SUGAREGG', one of the more consistent and vibrant records in their catalogue to date.
While Bully have always been a fond fan of the bolstering and fuzzy guitar sound, 'SUGAREGG' takes this aesthetic as far as they are willing to push it, unveiling 12-track of unbridled momentum. Working alongside Grammy-winning producer John Congleton for the length of the release, the band actively pursued a more cohesive route on this new collection, giving it a far more breezy and easy-to-digest flow from start to finish. While it does occasional stumble from time to time, the majority of material on here is engaged and tuned-in throughout, delivering a return that was well worth the wait.
Bully is now pretty much the sole project from Alicia Bognanno, but it has always been her persona and songwriting that has driven the band forward, and with her head in a better state, it feels like she has truly found the direction they have always wanted on this collection. 'SUGAREGG' is a strong and powerful string of anthems that deserves multiple listens.
39. Beach Bunny – ‘Honeymoon’
What We Said…
Following on from the rousing success of their previous four EPs, as well as their multi-million streamed single 'Prom Queen', Chicago's Beach Bunny have now passed the first major milestone of their career with the release of their debut album. Over these last few years, the band have looked to channel the fresh and energetic tones of acts like Best Coast and Sløtface to deliver a bold and exciting collection of singles, and this is exactly what we get on 'Honeymoon', an album filled to the brim with catchy riffs and a fun atmosphere.
Led by the penetrating vocals of frontwoman Lili Trifilio, the group move effortlessly from one fast-paced cut to the next, conjuring influences from a diverse array of inspirations as it plays. While 'Honeymoon' largely looks to keep itself in the guise of a rough-but-impactful aesthetic throughout much of its runtime, there are still plenty of moments that sees the band take a step back from the raucous adventures of tracks like 'Promises' and 'Colourblind' to deliver a more swooning sound, with cuts such as 'April' and 'Racetrack' acting as a wonderful pallet cleanser before they kick back off again.
Despite only nine tracks long and 25 minutes in length, 'Honeymoon' still manages to pack in one hell of a punch throughout. Although it may be short, Beach Bunny never feel like they are rushing through their first collection, making for a enticing yet brief offering with plenty of avenues to explore in the future.
38. IDLES – ‘Ultra Mono’
What We Said…
Since first emerging with their breakthrough debut album 'Brutalism' in 2017, Bristol's IDLES have been heralded as the future of British punk music. With its raw and distinctive aesthetic, the venom and frenzy they showcased on that initial offering was enough for them to retire on. But they followed it up in the very next year with 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance', a record that saw them go from cult favourites to topping numerous Albums Of The Year lists as well as gaining their first Mercury Prize nomination. Now after a couple of years to figure out their next move, they return with 'Ultra Mono', a release that somehow sees them become louder than ever.
While their first two albums were a heady blend of tenacious and raucous attitudes split apart with more profound and heartfelt moments, 'Ultra Mono' instead pursues their more energetic side from start to finish, leaving very little room for subtlety or covert political opinions. Instead IDLES share everything they have on their sleeves and leave nothing to the imagination on what is probably their most anthemic collection to date. Just when you think they are going to give you a rest, that's when things really start to kick up a gear and deliver even bigger riffs and cacophonous drums.
It may not have that same vulnerability and personal touch that made 'Joy...' such a hit with fans and critics, but it shows that IDLES are far from low on ideas about where to go next and gives us one of the most explosive albums we have heard all year. A strong continuation for them that shows everyone that the anger and tenacity of their sound is far from wearing thin.
37. Phantogram – ‘Ceremony’
What We Said…
Since the release of their heavily-lauded debut album 'Eyelid Movies' just over a decade ago, Phantogram have been on a somewhat rocky road ever since. Their 2014 sophomore record 'Voices' was met with a more mixed affair from critics, and the death of frontwoman Sarah Barthel's sister complicated the recording of their third album 'Three' in 2016. But after a few years to find themselves and revert into becoming a more tightly-knit pairing, the band have now returned with their fourth full-length 'Ceremony', a release that sees them go back to the strong and confident guise of their earliest years.
Phantogram have always looked to adopt a multifaceted direction into their sound, but it feels that this time around, they have created a diverse and eclectic style that works so fluidly together. With each track, the duo marinade their production in a rich and emboldened feel that gives this new collection a fresh and yet distinctive feel that separates them from almost everything else on the scene right now. There is this bright and euphoric sonic appeal running throughout their latest album, and it manages to give each song its own luxurious and soaring aesthetic that we rarely see.
It may have been a long time coming but Phantogram have shown that truly good things come to those who wait as this record brings them right back to their initial beginnings. A release full of fascinating and intriguing compositions that never seem to falter and sews a vibrant tapestry of colourful concepts throughout.
36. The Wants – ‘Container’
What We Said…
When Bodega first delivered their debut album 'Endless Scroll' in 2018, there was a strong sense in the air that this new avenue through the post-punk sound was beginning to broaden. Something cleaner and far more engaging than the usual riff-raff, the band managed to inject a fresh and vibrant atmosphere into the scene, becoming one of the true torch-bearers to LCD Soundsystem's legacy. And now we have The Wants, and while they do include two members of Bodega in their ranks, the trio have looked not only to separate themselves from their formative outfit but pursue a more complex and multifaceted sound in the process.
What has been such a delight in the previews to this release has been the critical struggle to define their direction. So many have tried to nail them down and pigeonhole their intentions by making references to Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk and so many more in order to try and give a sense to who The Wants are and want to be. But in all, they are their own sponge of musical influences, taking in the last 40 years of musical ambition and creativity, and unleashing a bold and adventurous collection that maintains familiar troupes but ultimately sits alone on the post-punk shelf.
'Container' is one of those albums that can really change the perspective of a new band looking to get into music. It sounds almost like nothing in recent times yet has this strong and captivating flow that never stops throwing up surprises. A stunning debut from a group that have a very bright future ahead.
35. Róisín Murphy – ‘Róisín Machine’
What We Said…
While she still holds a special place in many hearts as the lead singer of dance music juggernauts Moloko in the 90s, Róisín Murphy's work in this century has been met with near universal acclaim ever since she began her solo career. As an artist that has a strong fondness for nightlife and culture, her music has always looked to be one step ahead of the scene, regularly adopting unconventional ideas that soon take root after she displayed them first. So with so much ingenuity running through her veins, she looks to bring the nightclub to a home setting on her fifth full-length 'Róisín Machine'.
Although the majority of this collection was recorded long before the pandemic started, sometimes years prior, 'Róisín Machine' has this incredibly dextrous aesthetic that kind of makes it perfect to listen to anywhere except a nightclub. While it still looks to maintain that 3am feel throughout, there is something mild and humble about these new tracks that don't necessarily make you want to dance. Instead the album moves with this subtle electronic grace that sees her share the limelight with the beats and bass to deliver a record that once again puts her at the forefront of the alternative club scene.
From the start, 'Róisín Machine' is about pursuing a journey within its direction. Much like a DJ mixing the tunes together, this release never looks to break its momentum and creates a solid and succinct adventure through numerous guises, resulting in one of the most distinct and proficient dance music albums we have heard all year.
34. LA Priest – ‘Gene’
What We Said…
After delivering his incredibly well-received debut album 'Inji' back in 2015, former Late Of The Pier frontman Sam Dust was riding a wave of buzz and acclaim that saw him completely separate himself from his formative outfit. While LOTP were not your conventional indie-rock outfit and in fact, led the charge in bringing experimentation to the genre, his new project LA Priest looked to move that one step closer to becoming a completely unique venture. And after five years of near complete silence, he has now returned with his long-awaited sophomore full-length 'GENE', a release that sees him hone his progressive direction.
What first struck us about 'Inji' was its sheer lack of contemporaries. It was almost impossible to pin down his style through the guise of other musicians around him, and so met us in this completely fresh and original way. And while 'GENE' obviously doesn't have that same instant impact to it, Dust has looked to perfect this abject direction by flushing it through a mixture of slow and fast, loud and quiet compositions that look to highlight the dexterity in his work. From the start, this new collection makes it clear that while you may be familiar with the direction, you have not heard it like this before.
Although the wait was longer than we originally anticipated, fives years feels like the perfect amount of time to fully appreciate this strange and psychedelic path that he has built for himself. Reminiscent of the old LA Priest but still very much doing his own thing, 'GENE' is a wonder on the new music landscape and one we won't be tiring of for another five years yet.
33. Caribou – ‘Suddenly’
What We Said…
When Dan Snaith released his fourth Caribou full-length 'Our Love' in 2014, it was clear that he had produced something very special. With international acclaim and a worldwide presence now under his belt, he was in no rush to continue that project without first stepping back from it for a while. Instead he revived his lauded techno project Daphni for a series of releases in order to move his mind away from the Caribou, in the hope of coming back to it with a completely blank slate. And this is exactly how it feels when switching onto 'Suddenly', a record that removes almost everything 'Our Love' had but still manages to deliver something incredibly unique.
The first thing many will notice about 'Suddenly' is just how organic he has made this record sound. While all of the Caribou work had this strong identity that has been rooted in electronic fanfare, this new collection relies far more heavily on traditional instrumentation, regularly using unaltered samples and untampered piano keys to create its core richness. Instead the experimentation he is known for remains in the production, regularly warping and diverting our expectations with unconventional ideas that almost see him take on a Flying Lotus or Lapalux-esque aesthetic this time around.
In all, it feels that 'Suddenly' is trying to be the best anti-pop pop record it can be. While he has now focused on a more mainstream direction on this album, he has managed to deliver plenty more of that Caribou flair that we know him for, creating a release that is both fascinating and captivating in equal measure.
32. Tame Impala – ‘The Slow Rush’
What We Said…
It was quite widely reported in the build up to this release that Tame Impala's Kevin Parker had fallen completely out of love with his previous LP 'Currents'. Despite many fans and critics heralding that record as one of his best of his career, the 2015 album was no longer in the singer and producer's favour, and he was always looking to creatively distance himself from it in the process of his latest material. So after five years of musical experimentation, we finally have his fourth full-length 'The Slow Rush', a record that sees Tame Impala take on a more sombre and tranquil direction.
I guess when you look back at the impact 'Currents' had on the wider music scene, with numerous other outfits emulating its sound in the years since, you can begin to understand why Parker would want to move onto something else so quickly. Thankfully, while 'The Slow Rush' still maintains plenty of that classic Tame Impala psych-rock aesthetic, there is definitely something more going on here. While each track is still rich in that blissful and atmospheric direction, there seems to be an earthy and more progressive angle happening here, as if he is stripping back their conventional sound to its basic core and rebuilding a new range of instrumentation around it.
Whatever he has looked to achieve on 'The Slow Rush', it seems to have paid off in spades as this new release manages to swell and build upon each single with this calm and uplifting grandeur, making for a smooth and highly enjoyable listen. This definitely feels like the beginning of a new phase in the Tame Impala legacy, and it is something that we can all get on board with.
31. BENEE – ‘hey u x’
What We Said…
For the last few years, we have seen New Zealand-based starlet BENEE grow and evolve ever since her humble beginnings just a few years ago. With love and praise arriving in waves, thanks to her previously shared EPs 'Fire On Marzz' and 'Stella & Steve' last year, the young newcomer was quickly building up a reputation for fresh and inspired bedroom-pop offerings that never looked to fit the mould. And after a another few short months of preview cuts, she delivers her long-awaited debut album 'hey u x', a warm and enticing collection that cements her legacy to date.
While BENEE has never been an artist wanting to break new ground, what she does, she does exceptionally well. Keeping the production and instrumentation as light as possible, focusing all energy on her captivating voice and presence on the release, 'hey u x' makes for an incredibly engaging full-length, filled with all the confidence of a far more established frontwoman at the helm. It has this incredibly calming aroma to it, offering up one light and uplifting cut after another, and creating a sweeping array of cosmic delights that deliver a beautifully diverse and dynamic full-length throughout.
While acts such as Grimes, Gus Dapperton and Lily Allen were also keen to make an appearance on this new record, 'hey u x' is still very much the BENEE we have always appreciated. Skirting the lines between commercial and underground pop aesthetics, she is quickly on her way to becoming one of this year's most impressive newcomers.
30. Dua Lipa – ‘Future Nostalgia’
What We Said…
The release of her 2017 self-titled debut album was one of the biggest pop juggernauts of that year, and saw Dua Lipa go from a promising new act to an international superstar with a wealth of catchy and memorable tracks under her belt already. So when it comes to following up a release like that, the feeling can sometimes be thoroughly overwhelming. But despite all the pretence of creating that difficult second album and looking to replicate the success of her debut record, it is clear that she has gone above and beyond all expectations as she delivers her sophomore full-length 'Future Nostalgia', a release that fully cements her as the future of British pop music.
While her self-titled album was an absolute hit-factory, banging out one highly acclaimed single after another, it never quite felt like a fully-formed collection but rather an LP that was written by comity. But with 'Future Nostalgia', we begin to feel like we are now beginning to hear the true sound of Dua Lipa, resulting in a far more cohesive and consistent offering. While there are these odd moments of retro flair, such as the disco-inspired direction of lead single 'Don't Start Now' or the driven synthwave aesthetic of 'Physical', the record still maintains this fluid and driven pace that keeps the release ever pushing itself forward.
Many would probably have written off Dua Lipa as a flash-in-the-pan act a couple of years ago, someone that would just come and go on the ever more competitive pop radar. But 'Future Nostalgia' proves that she isn't going anywhere and is fact probably looking to become this country's answer to Taylor Swift on an international level.
29. Brendan Benson – ‘Dear Life’
What We Said…
Despite first establishing himself in the mid 90s with a string of bold and captivating alt-rock singles at the start of his career, singer and songwriter Brendan Benson is probably more well-known these days as Jack White's cohort in The Raconteurs. But it is clear that hanging around with White these last couple of decades has had a strong impact on him as he has found himself move further away from his more stable sound in exchange for something far more adventurous throughout. This is precisely what we get on his long-awaited seventh LP 'Dear Life', a record that is brimming with experimentation.
He has always alluded to this unconventional direction on his previous efforts, but very rarely has he simply let it carry him away, just to find out what happens at the end. From the start, 'Dear Life' is looking to be a release that pays homage to his influences but also tries to push the boundaries of those inspirations. Flooded with all the usual dual vocal harmonies, soaring guitars, and blues-rock rhythm, Benson blends these all these familiar concepts around a web of psychedelic atmosphere, tempo jumps, and even the odd autotune on his voice to create something altogether more out there than we thought possible from him.
Yet despite its bold and unusual manner, 'Dear Life' could well be one of his greatest albums to date. It has this fresh and exciting appeal that we rarely hear from artists of his tenure, and breathes new life into the sometimes formulaic alt-rock sound. It may have been eight years since his last LP, but this has been well worth the wait.
28. Jehnny Beth – ‘To Love Is To Live’
What We Said…
Even while her formative group Savages were picking up praise and accolades for their string of incredible studio albums, it was always clear that frontwoman Jehnny Beth was always going to head out on her own journey at some point. Over the years, she has featured and collaborated with numerous artists to deliver a wealth of bold and passionate offerings that have seen her spread her creative wings and take on new and exciting avenues with her music. And now five years after she first made her solo intentions clear, she has now unveiled her long-awaited debut album 'TO LOVE IS TO LIVE', a fresh and dynamic new release.
While her work in Savages will always be seen as the future of the post-punk sound in this country, it is clear from just a few tracks on this new record that her own material is looking to focus on more than just one direction or genre. From the very beginning, 'TO LOVE IS TO LIVE' sets itself up as a multifaceted and explorative collection that sees her separate herself from her older guise and take on a more adventurous feeling throughout. Collaborating with producer Atticus Ross, The xx's Romy Madley Croft and IDLES frontman Joe Talbot, she has delivered one of the most unique and engaging records of the year so far and given a renewed sense of intrigue to her musical persona.
While we all knew that a solo full-length was going to arrive at some point, I don't think anyone was expecting the sheer effortlessness of its composition. Throughout its surprisingly brief 39-minute runtime, 'TO LOVE IS TO LIVE' packs in so much dark and textured sound, it feels like this is only the beginning to Jehnny Beth's solo journey.
27. Run The Jewels – ‘RTJ4’
What We Said…
There is probably no bigger name on the political rap circuit right now as Run The Jewels. With three powerful and emotive studio albums under their belt that look to tackle the raw and real subjects of oppression, subjugation and injustice, the duo have built a career as the figureheads to an enlightened and forward-thinking approach to the reality that has begun to overflow in the United States. And while this record was originally promised earlier in the year, releasing it during the biggest mass protests the US has seen since the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr shows just how viciously relevant their message is.
But while many were expecting this to be more of the same political rage they are known for, 'RTJ4' feels more like a party record when compared to their previous releases. The lead single 'ooh la la' and subsequent offering on the tracklist 'out of sight' feel like the pair are looking to break into a more mainstream direction, giving us something with a more radio-friendly edge to it. But that dabbling never lasts long as the album quickly changes gears once again and delivers one powerful and visceral cut after another. Most notably, the timely and bitterly confrontational 'walking in the snow', which sees Killer Mike deliver the line "And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, I can't breathe". Words that will no doubt resonant with all those involved in the ever-rising Black Lives Matter movement.
Fans of the group will see this as yet another powerful addition in their already impressive catalogue of full-lengths, but to those new to them, 'RTJ4' will be met as one of those rare releases that will come to symbolise the struggles and outrage that are now the defining social issue of this year so far. Shocking and fun in equal measure, Run The Jewels have continued to toe the line between engaging and enjoyable hip-hop with a strong and ever-vicious political message.
26. Willie J Healey – ‘Twin Heavy’
What We Said…
The story behind singer and songwriter Willie J Healey's rise through the ranks is quickly becoming a familiar one to those that keep a close eye on the politics behind the music industry. After being discovered early in his career, the young Bristolian was quickly snapped up by Sony Music to release his well-received 2017 debut album 'People And Their Dogs'; a release that didn't quite meet the commercial expectations of his label, despite his best efforts to conform to their guidance. Now free from his corporate shackles, he returns with his eagerly-awaited follow-up 'Twin Heavy', a full-length that sees him flourish and embrace his new independent aesthetic.
Channelling the bright and breezy feel of the 1970s folk-pop scene and the boisterous swagger of Jarvis Cocker in equal measure throughout this new collection, 'Twin Heavy' is one of those instantly enjoyable record that you just know isn't going to let you down from the start. Throughout its 12-track runtime, the frontman delights us in a wave of fresh and vibrant ditties that have this rich and dreamy texture, which never looks to show a sour note. His retro yet contemporary direction gives the record a familiar yet distinctive style that brings a great level of intrigue and joy to much of this new offering.
He may have been left on the scrap pile after his flutter with the major label lot, but Willie J Healey is one of those artists who can't be caged, and in fact, feels far more at home without the sales pressure lingering over him. Light and uplifting throughout, 'Twin Heavy' is one of those rare joys that needs to be brought out at every conceivable opportunity.
25. Soccer Mommy – ‘Color Theory’
What We Said…
When Sophie Allison released her first Soccer Mommy LP 'Clean' in 2018, fans and critics alike were blown away at the raw honesty the then 20-year-old presented on her initial release. Driven to explore the alienation and depression she had been experiencing all her life, the record was a breath of fresh air to many and clearly had a cleansing affect on the artist at its centre. Now as she returns with her follow-up 'color theory', it is clear that she is still looking for a way to work through her demons but now spreads those anxieties far beyond herself to create an album with more than just a single story to tell.
'color theory' gets its name from the three colours she has divided this record into. The first, blue, symbolising depression is devoted to her own struggles with the disease. The second, yellow, hones in on physical illness, centring around Allison's mother and her battle with a terminal illness. And finally, grey, represents a fear of death and the unknown. But despite such a bleak outlook and guise to work through here, Soccer Mommy manages to return with a bright and uplifting collection that never feels like it is slipping too far into the dark. It almost feels like this record began as a product of her own depressed state and slowly evolved into something that never looks to show too much fear in the face of it.
Yet even without the context of this new release, 'color theory' still makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging listen, never faltering fall from its basic truth and message. 'Clean' may have been the canvas in which she painted her self-portrait, but this new collection is where she incorporates more than just herself, spreading herself into new ideas and exploring more about her own place in this world. This is Soccer Mommy's world and we are just here for the ride.
24. Matt Berninger – ‘Serpentine Prison’
What We Said…
While this may be his first solo outing to date, we have expected The National's Matt Berninger to be putting this one out for a while now. Although he remains very much a solid part of his formative outfit today, he has spent the last few years spreading his creative wings as a producer and guest artist, looking for new and exciting challenges that will ultimately see him as more than just the frontman to one of the world's most applauded groups. So now he returns with his debut solo album 'Serpentine Prison', a record that plays it safe in the most elegant way possible.
Usually when an artist breaks away to work on a solo project, it mostly means that they have something new they want to try and explore. But for Matt Berninger, 'Serpentine Prison' is less about breaking new ground but simply finding an outlet for more of the music that he wants to make. So while fans of The National will no doubt find dozens of similarities on here, the full-length still makes for a bold and progressive endeavour throughout. Stripping back much of the usual fanfare, Berninger sits front and centre throughout this new collection, aiding in seeing him more of a tortured poet than the stadium-filling rockstar we have known him as until now.
49-years-old may be one of the oldest ages anyone has released a debut album, but the age and wisdom he brings to the album is insurmountable. From the very beginning, 'Serpentine Prison' sees itself as a broad and multifaceted affair that brings together every facet of Berninger's diverse personality, creating an eclectic yet succinct release that sees him shine throughout.
23. Moses Sumney – ‘Græ’
What We Said…
When US singer and songwriter Moses Sumney released his stunningly beautiful debut album 'Aromanticism' in 2017, it always felt that he had far more to share than the record was letting on. Despite its broad and adventurous tendencies, it only ever felt like we were just scratching the surface of the full potential and ambition he had at the time. Turned out we were more than correct as he later announced his sophomore album 'græ', a sprawling double album that invites numerous guest artists on board to help build the vision for himself that he has always looked to create.
With additional contributions from the likes of Daniel Lopatin, Thundercat, Jill Scott, James Blake and many more, Sumney has done all he can to keep everything about this record as fresh as humanly possible. Rather than focus himself on one particular avenue, the frontman ventures down many paths on this extensive new release, taking his unique and passionate direction as far as it will take him. Throughout 'græ', we see an ever-increasing intensity running through his songwriting, with the album regularly swapping out his normally soulful aesthetic for something more brash and experimental, allowing us to see him from every angle and inviting more intrigue to his persona as it plays.
With most double albums, artists are usually keen to showcase two sides of the same coin to their audience, but for Sumney, 'græ' plays as more of a continuous train of thought rather than two separate entities. Both parts of this new full-length are intended to be played one after another, giving us a vast and euphoric collection that hardly slows down throughout.
22. Hannah Georgas – ‘All That Emotion’
What We Said…
Since the release of her breakthrough debut album 'This Is Good' in 2010, Canadian singer and songwriter Hannah Georgas has quickly become one of her country's most prized exports. With numerous accolades thrown her way for her collections to date, including nominations for Juno Awards and the Polaris Music Prize, her legacy seems to grow stronger with each and every release. And now after a few years of releasing the odd single and EP, she is finally back with her lates full-length effort 'All That Emotion', a record that continues more of that bold and seductive direction.
Produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, 'All That Emotion' instantly sets itself out as a more dreamlike and illusive offering than much of her LPs to date. While maintaining a soft and easygoing aesthetic, levelled perfectly by her own hypnotic voice, the album itself has this extremely deep and rich atmosphere to it. While there is a deliberate intention to create something more mellow throughout, you can't help but notice the sheer level of detail within the instrumentation and production, giving this new full-length a far more textured feel that draws you in and makes you listen far closer than most.
There just seems to be something uniquely special about her latest work. While we know it is just Hannah Georgas doing what she does best, that still hasn't stopped us from feeling genuinely surprised by its sound, with almost every track bringing up something captivating to engage us even more. A masterful return from an artist that just seems to get better and better.
21. Thundercat – ‘It Is What It Is’
What We Said…
Over the last few years, we have seen a dramatic transformation in the direction and perception of producer and bassist Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat. As one of the standout names on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label, the artist began as an outsider weirdo, running along the peripheries of conventional musical ideas. But since the 2017 album 'Drunk', his first dabble into a more commercially appealing guise, we have seen him blossom out of his adolescence and begin to adopt a more ambitious and self-reflective tone, which is exactly what we are now experiencing on his fourth full-length 'It Is What It Is'.
Inspired largely by the loss of his good friend Mac Miller, to whom he spoke with hours before his overdose in 2018, 'It Is What It Is' is a scatological collection of diverse and eclectic musical influences, all wrapped up in a web of love and loss. But not that you would get much of that emotion running through this new collection, as his bombastic approach to production once again steals the show and delivers yet another batch of jazz-inspired RnB that is quickly becoming his signature sound. While their are plenty of moments that look to see him in a more vulnerable light, it is the bold and experimental funk additions that remain the stalwart element of this new release.
Thundercat seems to be one of those artists that can always make something stick. No matter how out of control his intentions become, he can always find that special way to create an engaging feel for the audience listening. 'It Is What It Is' may be more in line with 'Drunk' than anything else in his catalogue, but this is exactly what you should expect from an act always looking to evolve to the next step.
20. Owen Pallett – ‘Island’
What We Said…
Since the release of their stunning 2014 album 'In Conflict', a lot has changed for composer and producer Owen Pallett. They have since earned an Oscar nomination for their film scoring work on Spike Jonze’s 'Her' and an Emmy for Sølve Sundsbø’s 'Fourteen Actors Acting', not too mention providing a wealth of arrangements for the likes of Frank Ocean, Taylor Swift, Christine & The Queens, The National and many more. But their ambition to get back into their solo work clearly found its way to the forefront of their mind once again, and they return with their first solo outing in six years, 'Island'.
Released with no notice whatsoever, this surprise collection largely sees the artist return to their soaring and ambient ways right from the very beginning. While they do offer up their sweet and sensual voice on occasion, much of this new release is an instrumental affair that looks to aid a sense of grandeur to the times that we are living through. While recorded long before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect, 'Island' still has this dark and uncertain atmosphere to it. Wrapped up in a wave of solemn piano, strings and keys all looking to add their own delicate touch to the compositions, this new release rises and falls with such an elegant grace, it quickly becomes an all-consuming collection demanding every ounce of your attention at once.
Owen Pallett may have found their high-demand a welcome distraction to their usual work, but it is clear see that their own material is what we should have been demanding all these years. 'Island' is an exquisite and beautifully produced full-length that sees them return with some of the most passionate offerings of their career so far.
19. Beabadoobee – ‘Fake It Flowers’
What We Said…
It feels like we have been waiting around for eons to hear her debut studio album. Having released singles such as 'Coffee', 'Disappear' and her breakthrough offering 'She Plays Bass' as far back as 2017, the slow but sudden rise of Beabadoobee has been one of the most captivating in resent years. Signed to the ever-impressive Dirty Hit label, there was only one place that she was destined to end up and that was firmly on everyone's favourite new artist list. So with the buzz still higher than ever, she drops her long-awaited debut album 'Fake It Flowers', a record that fully cements her legacy to date.
Despite having such enormous success with those earlier offerings, the artist has chosen to leave them aside from her initial album, giving us a fresh and renewed appeal to this new record. But it may also be that those older cuts just wouldn't fit amongst this rich and soaring 90s alt-rock-inspired aesthetic that seems to have crept into this new collection. From the start, Beabadoobee seems less interested in following the path of her contemporaries and instead pursues a more nostalgic and recognisable route, giving us a bright and familiar release that packs itself with bounds of energy and uplifting atmosphere, it is hard not to feel instantly drawn to it.
The album's preview singles obviously gave us an indication of what we could expect on here, but 'Fake It Flowers' is a far more adventurous and sometimes raucous full-length than we could have hoped for. Continually upping the ante on almost every track, this first LP is her new beginning and something that we can see becoming the start of a glittering career to come.
18. Georgia – ‘Seeking Thrills’
What We Said…
In hindsight, there was really no doubt that Georgia would become an established name in the underground electronic scene. With her father Neil Barnes, one half of Leftfield, she was exposed to the rave life at a very young age and it is this youthful exuberance to the sound that made her such an engaging artist throughout 2019. Yet while she has been working on her career for many years up until now, there has been so much buzz surrounding the release of 'Seeking Thrills' that it feels like a new beginning for the frontwoman as she finally breaks through to the mainstream with a diverse and exciting new collection.
From the start, 'Seeking Thrills' is looking to both distance and embrace the alternative pop sound that artists like Charli XCX and Tove Lo have been pushing these last few years. While it is clear that she is looking to rope herself in with that crowd, she is also coopting her own unique take on the direction, giving us a new and fresh angle to it. The gear change from 'About Work The Dancefloor' into 'Never Let You Go' highlights this eclectic feel right from the start, allowing her to go in almost any direction she feels and creating an enjoyable and captivating new release.
She may have been a cult name for these last couple of years, but Georgia is soon to become one of this country's favourite electronic artists. Walking in the footsteps of La Roux and Robyn, 'Seeking Thrills' is a perfect step for her in her career and may this not be the last time we hear from her.
17. Låpsley – ‘Through Water’
What We Said…
Since the release of her breakthrough debut album 'Long Way Home' in 2016, singer and songwriter Låpsley has found herself as one of this country's most prized new artists. With an ear for musical dexterity and a progressive vision for herself, those initial singles were greeted as a breath of fresh air within what was a stagnating alt-pop environment. But four years down the line and the world becoming an ever more dramatic place to live, she has begun to look outside of herself for inspiration behind her follow-up 'Through Water', a record that sees her grow ever more as an artist.
Opening with the album's title-track, 'Through Water' begins with a spoken word inclusion about the dangers of climate change and how water will ultimately become one of our biggest problems in the years to come. This obviously sets a state of mind in which to listen to this new collection, one that appreciates the delicate nature of our world and what we can do to keep it moving in a positive direction. This thread of emotion sustains itself for much of the release as she delivers one breathtaking and sweeping offering after another, creating this blissfully ambient LP that just seems to melt into your mind.
Much like her debut release, 'Through Water' seems to keep its finger firmly on the pulse of today's musical listener, both politically and sonically, making for an extremely timely and relevant full-length. Låpsley may have stunned us before, but this new offering seems to be so much more, adding yet another rich and vibrant layer to her growing legacy.
16. Lianne La Havas – ‘Lianne La Havas’
What We Said…
After first building her reputation for solid and soulful croons on her initial releases 'Is Your Love Big Enough?' in 2012 and the 2015 follow-up 'Blood', Lianne La Havas was riding a wave of praise and acclaim that cemented her as one of this country's most prized neo-soul performers. But rather than continue to move with the buzz and momentum behind her at the time, she decided to take a step back from the limelight and work on a collection of music that best represents her as an individual. So after a five-year hiatus, she finally returns with her third studio album, one that looks to breathe really life into her catalogue.
Inspired by the life cycle of nature and its ability to thrive, disappear, and then come back even stronger, 'Lianne La Havas' looks to reflect this dynamic in every part of its production and composition. While her older records were certainly a strong and instantly rejoiced introduction to her sound, this new collection sees her explore a whole new range of aesthetics and emotions that give this full-length a far more diverse feeling throughout. Stripping back much of the fanfare to focus solely on her voice, she has made a comeback that feels far more self-reflective than we initially thought.
While she has usually been one to toe the line between passionate and engaging work, while also pumping out the odd radio-friendly pop tune from time to time, 'Lianne La Havas' sees her embrace for more of the former, creating a record that flows with elegant beauty rather than worry about its mainstream appeal. This makes for a truly wondrous return and possibly her best material to date.
15. Another Sky – ‘I Slept On The Floor’
What We Said…
The rise of Another Sky has been a welcome but unexpected one in some cases. While the talent and intrigue around the band has been circulating since their initial releases in 2018, it has been the commercial and radio world's embrace of them that seems very rare, especially as there isn't a part of their sound that many would consider mainstream. But despite that, the more pop-focused world is clearly ready to dip its toes into the more abstract realm as Another Sky release their long-awaited debut album 'I Slept On The Floor', a warm and atmospheric release that brings wondrous soundscapes back to the forefront.
Since their earliest beginnings, Another Sky have always looked to bring a more diverse and distinct sound to their repertoire. Channelling the grand and sweeping energy of the post-rock sound and combining it with a more humbled guise, that almost finds them following in the footsteps of London Grammar at times, 'I Slept On The Floor' is one of those rare records that circumnavigates almost every expected convention and yet still maintains an almost familiar sound. It's this subtle blend of engaging yet adventurous intention that gives their debut full-length such a fresh and vibrant sound, something we all knew this record would be.
Another Sky are firmly still in their infancy, but 'I Slept On The Floor' feels like the release of an outfit with ten-times their experience. With its majestic pursuit of big and euphoric sounds, there is rarely a moment that sees them falter on here, giving us one of the year's more breathtaking offerings so far.
14. Sorry – ‘925’
What We Said…
Over the last few years, we have seen a dramatic shift in the definition of indie-rock in this country. While the early noughties saw the genre experience a string flutter with the mainstream world, ever since that bubble burst, we have seen numerous bands come and go in trying to find something new and interesting within the sound in order to give it that urgency it once had. And now after a string of highly-praised singles these last few years, hotly-tipped newcomers Sorry look to inject their twist on the scene with the release of their debut album '925', a record that never looks to conform to convention.
Usually when an act is held up as the next big thing in music, it usually rings alarm bells for many as simple hyperbole looking to get some quick attention before they fall off the face of the earth for good. But in the case of Sorry, it seems that all that hype was completely justified as they always look to deliver something fresh and interesting on their initial full-length. From the very start, '925' is this bold and ever-warping mix of post-punk, psych-rock and grunge, all wrapped up in this rough and raw production that kind of makes us feel the same way we felt about hearing Bodega and HMLTD for the first time. Like this was something worth paying attention to.
I don't think that anyone who switches onto '925' for the first time can truly appreciate everything about it. It seems to be one of those records that offers up something new during every repeat listen and certainly has the interest to hold you multiple times. Sorry may have been riding the hype-train this last year, but you can't argue with the results.
13. Sault – ‘Untitled (Rise)’
What We Said…
Since first emerging with their debut studio album '5' at the beginning of last year, the mystery surrounding Sault has only intensified in recent months. After following up that initial record with its follow-up '7' a few months later, and then again with the third instalment 'Untitled (Black Is)' in the wake of the George Floyd shooting in America, we still have no idea who they are and what their inspirations are, as they have yet to give even one interview to the media. But what we do know is they are creating some of the most exciting music right now and return with their fourth full-length 'Untitled (Rise)', a release that truly cements them as one of Britain's best.
Over the previous albums, critics seem to have managed to get a handle on what to expect from Sault now. They look to blend a mixture of nostalgic and contemporary influences in order to create a bridge between disco, RnB, afrobeat, and house, essentially placing themselves at the heart of black culture and creating a sound that is familiar yet distinct in its own way. But while older releases focused on the more atmospheric side to their style, 'Untitled (Rise)' feels like a far more euphoric and uplifting collection. Usually opting for light and upbeat guitar hooks and synth lines throughout, we are seeing a more jovial side to their direction, showcasing even more of their progressive and adventurous endeavour.
From the very start, 'Untitled (Rise)' sets itself as a very different offering from their previous records so far. There are far more vocals and voice samples on here when compared to their largely instrumental catalogue, giving this return a less distant feel and giving us the impression that they are pulling back more of the cloak they have shrouded themselves in since their beginning. We still have no idea who they are but that just seems add another level of intrigue to this wildly enjoyable return.
12. Courtney Marie Andrews – ‘Old Flowers’
What We Said…
Since her earliest beginnings, Courtney Marie Andrews has always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve. Never looking to shy away from the complicated and hard-hitting emotion of real life romances, her music has always looked to explore the more vulnerable and frail aspects of relationships. But prior to the writing of this new collection, she suffered a devastating break up of her own, leaving her heartbroken and despondent. And just like any artist on a prolific streak, she channelled her feelings into this new release 'Old Flowers', a record that sees her in her most intimate state yet.
Courtney Marie Andrews has always felt like an artist wise beyond her years. With this becoming her fifth full-length to date, the frontwoman has yet to leave her 20s and so the album still has that essence of youth behind each of its works. But while the devastating loss of her long-term relationship remains the solid theme to her latest full-length, there always feels like light at the end of the tunnel within every song. Using minimal instrumentation and an echoed (almost haunted) production, she shares one bold and vibrant serenade after another, each looking to form a piece of her broken heart slowly building itself back together.
'Old Flowers' feels like something far more powerful from the frontwoman in recent years. While she has always looked to deliver bold and vibrant offerings throughout her career, there is something so timeless about these songs that it feels this is the start of a new side of her. Someone who is less afraid to show her true self on record and connect with the listener in a far more visceral way.
11. E^ST – ‘I’m Doing It’
What We Said…
For the last few years, South Africa-born but Australia-based singer and songwriter E^ST has been one of the most inventive and exciting names to appear on the new music circuit. With an incredible six years passing since the release of her breakthrough debut EP 'Old Age', she has spent the time since reworking and reinventing herself over and over until she found a sound and direction that she could firmly call her own. And we are more than grateful for that process as she delivers her long-awaited debut album 'I'M DOING IT', one of the most fun and exciting releases of the year so far.
In recent times, E^ST has been compared to a whole host of other female alt-pop stars including Tove Lo, Robyn, and MØ, but those connections never quite sat well with us as it is clear from just a few tracks on 'I'M DOING IT' that she is definitely taking her own path on this one. With its bright and energetic feel throughout, mixed with her engaging persona from start to finish, her debut full-length looks to take the static and conventional elements of the alt-pop sound and turn them completely upside down, resulting in something truly original and diverse with an almost experimental edge to it.
It may have taken longer for this moment to come than for most in the industry, but E^ST's debut album has been more than worth the wait. A bold and sweeping affair that looks to add genuine joy and euphoria into everything it delivers. This will be one of those releases that will see E^ST move from a cult gem to your new favourite artist.
10. Khruangbin – ‘Mordechai’
What We Said…
Since the release of their much-loved breakthrough record 'Con Todo El Mundo' in 2018, Houston-based outfit Khruangbin have been slowly working their way into the new music consciousness ever since. With many discovering their sound thanks to their collaborative EP with fellow Texan Leon Bridges at the start of the year, the psych-funk trio are riding a wave of buzz and expectation right now, which gives them the perfect opportunity to deliver their eagerly-awaited new LP 'Mordechai', a record that looks to bring back that classic funk sound through a modern lens.
With a broad and international base of influences, which includes East Asian surf-rock, Persian funk, and Jamaican dub, 'Mordechai' is almost purposely designed to appeal to the widest audience possible, yet remain very niche in its sonic direction. This clash of intentions gives them a wonderfully eclectic sound that manages to create bold and captivating soundscapes, all through a familiar yet distinct guise. Never ones to make much noise in getting noticed, this new collection effortlessly swims its way from one light and upbeat composition to the next, creating a warm and inviting release throughout.
People still may not be 100% clear on the spelling or pronunciation of Khruangbin, but this music has such a universal attraction, it would be hard to find someone that isn't completely engrossed in it. From start to finish, 'Mordechai' plays as a wonderfully woozy and sweeping string of psych-funk delights, all written and performed in a way that will take you out of any humdrum experience in your life and transport you to a breezy wonderland where nothing matters aside from beats and rhythm.
9. Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Punisher’
What We Said…
There hasn't been an artist so openly welcomed into the worldwide music fold as Phoebe Bridgers of late. Despite only releasing her incredible debut album 'Stranger In The Alps' in 2017, the frontwoman has found herself collaborating with a wide and diverse array of more established artists in the succeeding years, including The National's Matt Berninger, her collaborative project boygenius with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and Better Oblivion Community Center, which she shares with Bright Eye's Conor Oberst. And it is clear that that mix of influences has made a strong impact on her highly-anticipated sophomore album 'Punisher', which looks to stand tall over everything she has created so far.
Much like her debut, 'Punisher' is intended to be a warm and heartfelt delve into her own personal world, examining feelings and emotions that have shaped her as a person over the last few years. But rather than create a completely insular release that relies heavily on her own passionate guise, we do get to see her break loose from time to time, giving this new full-length a far more diverse and exciting direction in places. Tracks like 'Kyoto' and 'ICU' aim to break up the sometimes heavy tones of this new collection, allowing her to not only venture into more adventurous territory, but gives the listener a jolt back into place in keeping the LP as engaging as possible.
In all, 'Punisher' looks set to become the new personal milestone for Bridgers' writing abilities since she began. Every track is filled with this rich and textured narrative that looks to flow effortlessly throughout any aesthetic or genre she explores in its production. She may have become the go-to artist for many in recent times, and it feels that that will now only accelerate in the years ahead.
8. Perfume Genius – ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’
What We Said…
Since the release of his 2010 debut album 'Learning', producer and singer Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius has always had this yearning to be bigger and bolder than he seems in the current moment. As a musical sponge who seems to absorb the best and brightest sounds from a multitude of different genres, his records to date have been a solid and adventurous delve into his own personal obsessions, taking great strides at any given point. But it feels that he has finally reached his highest peak as he returns with album number five, 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately'.
While listening to the preview singles from this new release, it almost felt like we had a handle on where this new record was going to take us. But even after the first few tracks, it is clear that Hadreas had more than a couple of tricks up his sleeve as 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately' barrels from one aesthetic to another without care or pretence. It is this sharp and unexpected shift in gears that has made this latest collection such a joy to listen to from start to finish, giving us one of the most diverse and eclectic albums of the year so far and one that doesn't feel like it is trying to do too much at once.
Perfume Genius has always had this chameleon-like feeling to everything he produces, but with a consistently euphoric and optimistic approach throughout this new full-length, he has delivered a record that might well be his best to date. 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately' may have its focus in the more ethereal moments, but still manages to pack in so much emotion throughout its exciting tracklisting.
7. Baxter Dury – ‘The Night Chancers’
What We Said…
Growing up as the son of one of the most influential musicians the UK has ever seen was always going to instil a sense of family tradition in Baxter Dury. While his father Ian Dury completely reinvented the idea of what punk could mean to the working classes of this country, Baxter's initial solo career was still masked by the shadow of his dad, with many continuing to make comparisons between the two artists. But with nearly two decades into his own career, Baxter Dury has now found his own path within the industry as his sixth full-length 'The Night Chancers' sees him step into the unique and innovative shoes he was born with.
While not intended to be one, 'The Night Chancers' unexpectedly plays more like a concept record, recalling stories and myths from the underbelly of society with a distinct malice and wit only he could have produced. Keeping his own voice off the release as much as possible on this collection, each track's narrative seems to be primarily told through the guest characters that come and go or the ambience created within its rich and inviting compositions. This gives Dury a more voyeuristic presence on this album, simply a watcher that would rather the listener fill in the gaps to the stories themselves rather than spell them out to them.
This gives us a real chance to feel the heart and emotion he has driven into each and every single, and presents the man at the helm as one of this country's best musical storytellers. 'The Night Chancers' may be decades into his career, but it feels like he has reached a peak in his work that he can finally call his own.
6. Hayley Williams – ‘Petals For Armor’
What We Said…
In a lot of ways, a solo album from Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams has always going to be on the cards at some point. Having spent the last decade cropping up across a wide range of other artist's releases, it was clear that she had ambitions beyond the reach of her formative outfit. And while the band's 2017 LP 'After Laughter' gave us a glimpse of her mindset surrounding progressive ideas, it has been her personal life that was the proven catalyst behind this new collection as she ponders life, loss and reinvention on her debut solo full-length 'Petals For Armor'.
Despite spending the majority of her time in the limelight in a relationship with New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert, the couple were married for little more than a year before divorcing in 2017. And it was the subsequent depression and unwanted thoughts that became the building blocks of this new release. From the start, 'Petals For Armor' sees Williams in a completely unknown guise from her usual output, regularly experimenting with production and creating an album that feels totally apart from anything we would have expected. And while its subject matter looks to focus around the fragility of the human spirit, it has this hardened core of musical prowess that just keeps powering through no matter what.
For all the glossy pop-rock and commercially angled material she has attached herself to over the years, it is remarkable to hear Hayley Williams show us more of her own personal feelings and deliver something so utterly spellbinding from start to finish. 'Petals For Armor' may have started as a way for her to escape her personal demons, but the final product is probably her most accomplished work to date.
5. Waxahatchee – ‘Saint Cloud’
What We Said…
Since she first started her Waxahatchee project, frontwoman Katie Crutchfield has always looked to reflect her own personal texture onto preassigned genre tropes. Coupling folk and Americana-inspired tones with her distinct flair for fresh and engaging songwriting has given her a sound that feels familiar but is importantly unique to her own sense of direction. This has proven to be a winning formula for her four previous albums, but on full-length number five, it feels like she has gone above and beyond her usual guise as 'Saint Cloud' delivers a rich and wonderfully captivating listen.
Never really looking to focus itself on one particular sound for too long, 'Saint Cloud' is this broad and adventurous collection of lo-fi whimsy that simply looks to swoon and serenade at almost every turn. Not one to fill the release with layers of unnecessary production and fanfare, Crutchfield commands to attention of the listener throughout this 11-track recording, giving us a warm and uplifting record that seems to swell and mature as it plays. Tracks like 'Fire' and 'Lilacs' have these incredibly emotional qualities that many artists would die for, but seem to come so easy for the woman at the helm.
Waxahatchee has always been a name associated with quality and consistency, but on 'Saint Cloud', it feels like she has gone far further than we have heard before, unleashing one of the most relaxing and listenable records of the year so far. Crutchfield has shown us a true majesty within her work this time, something that has always been alluded to over the years.
4. Boniface – ‘Boniface’
What We Said…
For more than the last few year, we have been simply stunned with the output of Canadian artist and songwriter Micah Visser aka Boniface. Their mixture of bold and fascinating alt-pop production with a warm and enticing presence has led Visser to become a regular favourite for us over the last three years, and as they return to deliver their self-titled debut album, it is clear that they are looking to become so much more than just another cult name breaking through to the mainstream.
What this record manages to convey from the very start, is the fresh and intimate nature at the helm. Their previous string of singles such as 'Dear Megan', 'Fumbling' and 'I Will Not Return As A Tourist' were incredible snapshots of their blistering production aesthetic, but hearing them all back to back on this new collection really hammers home their stunning intentions. While the release is a mixture of years-old material and much newer recordings, the record still manages to gel with the same sense of purpose and charisma that acts like Bleachers have been producing all these years.
There is just something so eloquently blissful about 'Boniface'. Not only is it a stunning example of how to produce stunning and engaging synth-pop, it also presents the singer in a vibrant light that is rarely heard in a new and emerging artist. Visser has produced a masterpiece of a debut album, and it is hard not to fall in love with it instantly.
3. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – ‘What Kinda Music’
What We Said…
Since releasing his brilliant debut album 'Geography' in 2018, Tom Misch quickly grew from a cult name to one of this country's most prestigious new acts. With a sound that managed to bring funk, soul and jazz into a mainstream setting, the frontman's hybrid direction has been one we have admired for the last few years. But for his second release, he chose to collaborate with a familiar friend Yussef Dayes, a jazz drummer who has worked alongside Misch on a number of projects in the past. Together they have produced 'What Kinda Music', a bold and impressive delve into their own passions and styles.
From the very start, 'What Kinda Music' is the question we ask ourselves when we first switch onto this new collection. With those also the first lyrics we hear from the opener and title-track, it seems to have the urgency and sporadic impulse of a release that was almost entirely improvised throughout. Vocals remain largely absent from this new album, giving both of the creators, and the occasional guest, the chance to show off their musical prowess in an instrumental setting, giving us one of the most captivating and unique records we have heard all year so far.
It feels like the lack of ego that makes this such a enticing collection. While both could easily carry a record on their own, they never try to steal the spotlight from each other but instead bring out the best of their personal abilities. 'What Kinda Music' may be just a one-off collaboration for now, but feels like these two will be back in the studio again without hesitation.
2. Fiona Apple – ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’
What We Said…
Having first emerged back in the 1990s with her breakthrough debut album 'Tidal', US frontwoman Fiona Apple has always been one of those rare characters that never looks to overexpose herself. In fact, when she followed up her debut release with the sophomore full-length 'When The Pawn...' in 1999, the three year gap between the two was the shortest wait we ever had to endure for a new Fiona Apple record. And after a long eight years since the unveiling of her 2012 LP 'The Idler Wheel...', we are finally getting to hear her fifth studio release 'Fetch The Bolt Cutters', a collection that shows she is far from lacking in creativity.
From the very start, 'Fetch The Bolt Cutters' sees itself as an abstract and diverse collection that sometimes feels it was recorded without any musical instruments to hand. The record's title-track seems to use various kitchen utensils such as pots and pans to create its percussion, and even ends with her dogs barking during its finale. It is this level of musical experimentation that has made Apple such a captivating figure on the musical horizon, and this album is simply jam-packed with a broad and adventurous aesthetic that see her push the boundaries of her formative sound to create one of the most engaging releases we have heard all year.
'Fetch The Bolt Cutters' is one of those purely original pieces of work that only an artist like Fiona Apple could have gotten to work so well. It has this elegant and effortless charm to it, giving it a flow that you can't help but come back to again and again. It will probably be close to a decade before we get to hear her next album, but we still won't be sick of this one by then.
1. HMLTD – ‘West Of Eden’
What We Said…
Having been releasing material as far back as 2017, we thought we had heard the last of HMLTD after the release of their 2018 debut EP 'Hate Music Last Time Delete'. But then all of a sudden, they returned at the end of last year with a wave of impressive and unconventionally catchy singles that reaffirmed their place in the art-punk world. Which was all leading to this, the release of their long-awaited debut album 'West Of Eden', a record that sees them explore their bold and inventive sound to the nth degree.
From the very start, 'West Of Eden' wears its emotions and messages on its sleeve. As a band of misfits and outsiders, frontman Henry Spychalski leads the group through a heady blitz of frantic guitar hooks and thunderous production, all wrapped up in his own engaging and captivating vocals and lyrical content. And just like what we heard on that first EP, trying to pin down or define the sound of HMLTD is harder than ever as it feels like the band are not only keen to showcase their wide range of influences, but they do it in style each and every time, making this one of the most diverse and exciting collections we have heard so far this year.
Whether its the spaghetti-western-inspired post-punk hooks of 'To The Door' or the Nick Cave-esque crooning of 'Satan, Luella & I', there never seems to be a single entity these guys aren't able to embody to its fullest. 'West Of Eden' is a vibrant and eclectic initial offering that gives us great hope for HMLTD in the years to come.