Messed!Up

25 Best Albums of 2019

J.N. December 31, 2019

The end is nigh, at least for 2019. Our pick of the year’s finest albums brings club beats, heartbreak, impetuous indie and beautiful soundscapes. Ms Tammy (T), DJ Pappaledig (DJ) and the Editor (E) summarize a fairly good music year that put an end to the 2010s.

*****

I love old school post punk with loads of flangers on the guitars and the bass and True Moon’s “II” is full of it. Karolina Engdahl and Tommy Tift – more known as members of Swedish punk act Vånna Inget – offer a raw, pure, and visceral reconnection with post punk’s most primal, feral, black-hearted urges. However, there’s also throwbacks to the late 70s and early 80s UK rock scene, with some tracks even sounding like they would be right at home at the height of the new romantic era. “Poison” and “They Call My Name” are proof of it. However, nothing stands out as “You Got It”, an awesome nod to band as Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy. (E)

*****

The collaborative chemistry between Olivia Bartley, aka Olympia, and Burke Reid is undeniable in the Melbourne indie songstress’s sophomore album, “Flamingo”, as the two encompass the colourful nature of the album title. Bartley entirely surrenders emotionally to “Flamingo” as she navigates the overwhelming responsibilities and expectations of love, packaging it in early 2000’s New York indie rock reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s from the get go with her signature driving guitar, smoky bass, bouncing drums and bursting  vocal lines on “Star City”. “Two Hands” and “Come Back” echo this styling, as does album stand out, “Hounds”. Bartley does show her sultry side on bass driven “Nervous Riders”, “First You Leave” and the title track. Weaving in and out of kaleidoscope explosions and naked backdrops, Olympia stepped into sophomore territory sure of who she is as an artist. (T)

*****

What can’t the hardest working band of this decade do? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set themselves up as the psychedelic, garage rock super band from their 2012 debut, “12 Bar Bruise”, intertwining sounds from each decade prior in a mindfuzz concoction of chaos, commotion and confidence. We’ve come to expect the unexpected from the seven piece Melbourne group, but they could not have prepared us for their detour into the world of trash metal. They also couldn’t prepare us for how they delivered a better trash metal album better than those who have dedicated their lives to the palm mutes, soaring guitars and gravel screams. Even with this deviation, the band maintain their King Gizz essence with their dimension-transcending sound grabs, gravity defying sonic layers and orbiting structures. Yet another showcase of the King Gizz gangs unparallel musicianship. (T)

*****

The myth of Jordan Cook, who started using the moniker Reignwolf once he moved stateside, sustained the band for a long time. Starting solo and later expanding to a full band, his fame stem from YouTube videos of his wild live shows, most notably him stealing power from a nearby Starbucks stand to play on the roof of the Easy Street van at the 2012 Sasquatch Fest. From that point it took seven years before the debut album arrived. And it’s vicious, unabashedly loud, and carries the swagger of a group that’s very comfortable in what it does. It distinguishes itself from other debuts in how polished and finely crafted it is. “Wanna Don’t Wanna” is one song that manages to stand out on the record; as the music and vocals just blend so well together it gives you chills and in a distinct way, the song manages to pay homage to the artist that helped inspire them.  As far as genres go, “Hear Me Out” is all over the place, the album has everything from rock, rockabilly, blues, and even a few traces of grunge like in the track previously mentioned. (E)

*****

25 minutes of raw power. An album doesn’t have to be more than that. Well, throw in some great melodies also, that´s always good. I hadn’t paid any attention to the Philadelphia-band before this, but the single “Drunk II”, just floored me. It sounds like DIIV or Yuck, but with even more melodic, but grittier. The whole record is full of anthemic songs, and they really deserve a big breakthrough. (DJ)

*****

There is a reason why Billie Eilish has catapulted to the forefront of the pop world and captured the attention of the masses across genres. Her debut album, “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”, as written, arranged and produced with brother, Finneas O’Connell, is a game-changer piece foreshadowing the movement of music for the decade to come. It’s simplistic songwriting with daring risks, morphing contrasting realms of pop and gothic in a dark, quite beautiful and, even at times, fun, body of work. The undeniably catchy, “bad guy” shapes the intention from the get go, following “!!!!!!!”, the only indication that a 17 year old voice and artistic vision stand behind the album. “you should see me in a crown”, “all the good girls go to hell”, and “bury a friend” are unconventionally anthemic, while “when the party’s over” is captivatingly haunting with the impact to make hairs rise thanks to Eilish’s stunning falsetto and unexplainably mature vocal control and emotional delivery. An album that will appear in lists of the best ever debut album releases. (T)

*****

Their previous album “Beneath The Skin” was a huge favorite album at Messed!Up and you wouldn’t expect a band to be able to repeat such a success, at least not immediately. Their third album “Fever Dream” lives up to its name, as it’s a delirious and ambiguous collection of songs that sound like music for big venues and arenas. They’ve added more electric elements to the folk-flecked sound that broke them out – and it’s brilliant! And they’re clearly so capable of creating glorious tunes that are brimming with life; just listen to “Sleepwalker”, “Róróró” and “Wild Roses”. (E)

*****

With five albums to his name, Tyler, The Creator lays it all on the line with his sixth studio album, “Igor”. Igor shows a refining of style and the solidifying of Tyler, The Creator as an artistic great, extending on from his delightful 2017 Grammy-nominated “Flower Boy” with genuine emotional consciousness and sleeve-wearing expression. The line – “Sometimes you have to close a door to open a window” ignites “NEW MAGIC WAND” and can be said for the Tyler, The Creators artistic and emotional journey. His albums typically centre on the subject of absence, from his father to love, but Igor details the finalising of a breakup and is done so in a graceful, mature manner riding on the backdrop of colourful chords. (T)

*****

Calva Louise took as by storm already a few weeks before their debut album came out when they played Hamburg and Molotow for the first time, in January (and then they returned three times to Hamburg during the year). The surf pop rockers are special. Not only do they write tremendously good music, but their songs are full of hooks, variety and surprise. In fact, every song on this album has a hook. It is almost as if the trio possesses the inability to write a hook-free song, even if they attempted to do so. And the frontwoman Jess Allanic is something extra. Never seen anyone performing with such a frenzy and whose guitar and vocals make up an immense part of the band’s sound. Recommended listening: “Outrageous”, “Cruel Girl” and “Out Of Use”. (E)

*****

When some bands take three to five years between the records, Big Thief is having nothing of that. The debut album came in 2016, the sophomore in 2017, and in 2019, they released TWO records. Two! Both of them great. But to me, “U.F.O.F.”, released in May (the second in October, with hit song “Not”), is a bit stronger. It’s a bit of Americana, indie rock, and folk rock and it comes together great thanks to Adrienne Lenker´s great vocals. My favourite song is the single “Cattails”, a pretty, stripped down song with a melody moving up and down, back and forward. I’ve always been a sucker for songs that builds up and up, adding layers to it. “Cattails” does this so nice, ending epically. The whole album is like this, song after song with small huge songs, just excellent. (DJ) 

*****

Gothenburg’s finest! And that’s with quite some competition, to say the least. But in recent years, Westkust has really been one of the greatest rock groups from the west coast, that has spoiled us with so many great bands. Melodic, punky, messy rock, with heavy guitars. It’s just so great. The band went through quite a change in the four years they were gone, with only two remaining members, but that it can hardly be notices, except the mic is no longer shared between Julia Bjernelind and the now gone Gustav Andersson, aka Guggi Data. It still sounds like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the likes, but it´s quite a unique sound, especially due to Bjernelinds vocals that cut through the guitars like a knife. And the songs then? “Cotton Skies”, “Daylight”, and “Swebeach”. Mmmmm, so fucking great! (DJ)

*****

Vampire Weekend continue their momentum of delivering exceptional records. 11 years after they dropped their debut self-titled monster, “Father of the Bride” is the breath of fresh air that we needed in our frenzied world. The first album without the appearance of Ezra Koenig’s principal collaborator, Rostam Batmanglij, “Father of the Bride” is the loosest album to date but continues to capture the controversies of the social landscape though presents it with rose-coloured glasses. With a slight side step from the indie rock world, “Father of the Bride” still captures the bright and infectious nature of Vampire Weekend. (T & DJ)

*****

SONS races through ideas as though they’d disappear if they didn’t commit them to wax as soon as possible. Magnificently, songs like “Ricochet” and “Keep On Going” are energized by diverse sonic signatures rooted in garage punk; “Naughty” simultaneously peddle protean sludge, ticklish percussiveness and heady guitar riffs. For being a band that made it out to the world through a local competition it sounds bigger than being a debut act. Make way for SONS in America! (E)

*****

The Amazons second album is much bigger, bolder and more exhilarating than ever before. Heavy guitar riffs and melodic vocals flow greatly throughout each track, delivering the band’s distinct sound. he amazing tones of Matt Tomson’s voice combines effortlessly with bulky bass lines and impressive drum roles. “Fuzzy Tree” and “25” are amongst the most popular tracks on the album, yet each song has something new to deliver. Without doubt, The Amazons have pulled together another awesome eleven track album. An amazing show at Molotow in Hamburg just enhances that impression. (E)

*****

From 1985 until now, Thom Yorke has shaped the musical landscape, pioneering genres and extending capabilities of sound and arrangement through his groups, Radiohead, and Atoms For Peace, and within his solo space. Following on from Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” and the soundtrack for “Suspira”, “Anima” is yet another exploration into his musical genius and psyche; a fever dream of artful proportions that paints a dystopian ecstasy and diabolical rapture. It is a complex, chaotic, uneasy and frighteningly beautiful nine part arrangement consisting of strobing synths that flickering and fluttering through the body, and delicate, pulsating veins of loops that carry the songs. Yorke’s haunting falsetto is the tip of the iceberg with the vocal layers acting as a guide for only a handful of tracks. The rest of the time the muffled chorus lines only add to the unease and sombre nature. Partnered with a brilliantly structured and elegantly captivating short, “Anima” is Yorke’s most detailed and immersive solo output to date. (T)

*****

Chillwave is dead, long live chillwave. Or something. Chaz Bundick has come a long way from the early 2010’s and the height of just chillwave. Toro Y Moi is one of the obligatory passage points when discussing that sub-genre, but he has really made something different. He’s really productive, both as Toro Y Moi, but also as Les Sins and other monikers. The sound is recognizable, but now it’s more in the front, and direct, and more electronic dance music in a sense. Opener “Fading” is a great example, as well as “Freelance”, as song which it’s basically impossible to not dance when you hear. (DJ)

*****

The trajectory was clear. For each record Van Etten has gained more attention, and with a growing hype, it felt inevitable that the big breakthrough would come. And if you release such an awesome single as “Comeback Kid”, well, then there is nowhere else to go than up. During 2019, Van Etten has been on basically every single talk show there is, just showing everyone who’s the boss. I really loved the 2014 release “Are We There”, but if that one was a little more based around the piano and a more sparse sound, “Remind Me Tomorrow” is based on heavy guitars. The two records actually start on the same note, but while the former goes into major key and a more hopeful tone on “Afraid of Nothing”, the latter moves into another direction. That obviously was intentional, a way of showing the listener that we will go on a similar, but very different journey together (if that makes sense. Probably not). The hit of the record is “Seventeen” is a rock anthem, peaking at 3.03, when she screams “I know what you´re gonna be (…) afraid that you´ll be just like me”. Goose bumps. Good damn. (DJ)

*****

The Raconteurs had a similar resurgence to Tool in 2019, releasing their first full length studio album in eleven years. When they emerged in the 2008 with “Broken Boy Soldiers” and the bop “Steady As She Goes” The Raconteurs sunk seamlessly into the pop/indie rock Californian whirlwind. “Help Us Stranger” feels like a time jump back into that era of nostalgic bliss. “Bored and Razed” opens the twelve track album with an infectious driving guitar introduction and the booming chorus cry, “California Born and Raised” and sets the tone for the album, a brilliant concoction of blues, rock ‘n’ roll and some luscious country swing. Jack White and Brendan Benson gel effortlessly with Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler as the supergroup we needed to reunited in 2019. (T)

*****

Matrix and Futurebound have brought drum n’ bass out of dark and into living rooms. The duo – Jamie Quinn (Matrix) and Brendan Collins (Futurebound) – has been at the core of the dnb scene since they first collaborated in 2005. Since their debut album they’ve had four UK Top 40 hits, with “Control” peaking at number 7 in 2014, and have lend themselves to television appearances and BBC Radio 1 playlists.  Each part of the track listing is an astounding feat; Exhilarating slammer “Believe”, the winding sounds of “Tardis2, the crescendos of “Fire” and the emotive hooks of “Human” were all steps towards its eventual release, signposting just how essential this album was beginning to shape up as. If you’re new to the scene, this is where you should start. (E)

*****

What YONAKA have made here is one of 2019’s best breakthrough rock albums. Put simply, “Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow” is the birth of a new band of rock stars. From the moment the record kicks in, Theresa’s vocals soar, and whether it’s the gorgeous falsetto of atmospheric opener “Bad Company” or the sultry delivery of “Awake”’s biting “Ignorance is not bliss to me” (the original release of this song is actually called “Ignorance”) refrain, her performance never falters. It helps that the songwriting is just as impressive as the vocalist’s abilities. With such early confidence comes the pressure to succeed, but this band, led by star-in-the-making vocalist Theresa Jarvis, are just too good to crumble under the weight of expectations. (E)

*****

Bridie Monds-Watson got her breakthrough early, with her debut album in 2015 as a 19 year old, but writing her hit “Sea Creatures” at the age of 14. She was nominated for the Mercury Music Price and loads of other awards. In 2019 she was finally back, with the great, great, great “Grim Town”. Her unique voice is still there, as well as the melodic skills, but the sound is fuller and more concrete. Third track of the album is the beautiful “Everybody Loves You”, one of the best songs of the year. But there are so many great songs here. The pop pearl (in Sweden we say “poppärla” so I’m just translating it you know) “Knock Me Off My Feet”, the rocker “Maybe”, and “Déjà Vu”, a song with a big, big chorus. If you for some weird reason haven´t discovered her yet (being in a coma would be one of the few valid reasons), go do it! (DJ)

*****

13 years of patience. 13 years of anticipation. 13 years of preparation for the biggest release of the year and, dare I say, the decade. James Maynard, Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey did not crumble under the pressure. But for diehard fans, this album came with two reactions. 1. It’s absolutely amazing and faultless. 2. It falls short and doesn’t compare to “Lateralus” or “AEnima”. Tool’s small, yet groundbreaking, cutting-edge discography sets a very high benchmark for bands within the prog metal realm, including themselves moving forward, and in their fifth studio album, “Fear Inoculum” Tool takes their almost three decade career as prog pioneers and extends, adapts and accepts their place in this time period. At 90 minutes in length, Tool manage to keep the album engaging and consistent with their still present meditative grooves and exciting odd time signature shifts. “7empest”, “Invincible”, “Descending”, “Pneuma” and title track, “Fear Inoculum” are the pay off of 13 years in the brewer. (T)

*****

When you watch somewhere around 250 shows and have done that for the last 28 years you rarely – rarely! – get surprised anymore, but watching Yes We Mystic perform most of the songs from their second album “Ten Seated Figures” at Molotow in Hamburg during 2019 made me speechless. Their instrumentation and arrangements make the music distinct and unique, one of the attractive aspects of the music that make it feel like an indie rock act crossbred with an orchestra, and the end result is a big sound, too big for being on a small label and playing small venues. Six out of ten songs are just awesome, and “Felsenmeer” is music for the future. (E)

*****

Lana Del Ray’s fifth studio album is the Audrey Hepburn of records. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a perfume so honey sweet it exudes elegance and sophistication, cementing Lana Del Ray as one of America’s greatest living songwriters. Rey becomes America’s sweetheart as her timeless sound and nasalled ring sits upon stunning piano ballads with a dazzle of folk to deliver deeply political and social conversations in a time in US history where it matters most. Her word play is subtle; there are no rants, just self-aware observation and tales told through romantic, airy breaths, country warbles and minimalist backdrops. Whilst simple songwriting at its best, Rey still adds a level of complexity through tedious textures. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is Rey’s most mature body of work, sitting leaps and bounds ahead of album competition for 2019. (T)

*****

Every time Natasha Khan releases music under her alias Bat For Lashes, you know it’s going to be good. Every single released album is a journey through musical landscapes that’s hard to grasp. Its always well produced, dark, dreamy but always interesting and a bit weird. The latest release “Lost Girls” is just that. For example, opener “Kids In The Dark” to, originally written for a soundtrack (but was never used in the movie), where the song takes on several different shapes, but always with an 80s sounding synth in the background. “The Hunger” is more sparse, but with heavy drums and rhythms, and large choruses, and one of my favorites is album closer “Mountains”, a song that starts out as a piano ballad but grows into something else, something big and grandiose. But taking the album apart does it a bit of a disfavor, as it really is nothing short than a great album. (DJ)

 


Best Albums of 2019: Playlist

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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.

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