It’s that time of year where I decide that what the world needs is for me to put together lists of the shit I like because, you know, I don’t ramble on about that stuff enough. We’re kicking things off with my twenty favourite albums of 2019 and, if I do say so myself, it is quite a list. Personally, I think I have exceptional taste in music, so I can only congratulate me on how well I’m doing.
Quick note to tell you all to support musicians. If you click on the bands’ names throughout this list, it should take you to their Bandcamp (or in some cases website) where you can give them money (usually in exchange for something). Why not treat yourself to a post-Christmas gift? You might love it as much as I do.
I have some news. I think I might be a black metal guy, now? Once you read the rest of this list, the following statement is going to sound ridiculous, but I felt like I’d moved away from heavy music this year. However, towards the end of it, I suddenly got really into black metal, to the extent that I now go to sleep listening to a black metal playlist. It was a switch kicked off by Adore, which is 40 odd minutes of crushing yet atmospheric and even beautiful music that sweeps me along in its wake. I’m by no means an expert on this stuff, so I can’t put this in the context of the scene, but I know I like it.
Argh, I love Fresh so fucking much. A love that was cemented by seeing them twice in two days when they supported Pup in Glasgow before doing a solo show in Edinburgh. Withdraw is an album full of songs about real life with its numerous up and downs as these short songs cover everything from joy to melancholy and back again. It makes me smile, and it makes me cry, and any band that can throw a snippet of ‘Summer Loving’ into a track and pull it off with that much aplomb deserve all the love.
Things That Hurt feels like Cultdreams took everything that made their first album great and did more of it. It’s still atmospheric post-punk tinged with emo and shoegaze that tackles issues big and small, but it’s done better. Every song on here finds a spot in your brain to make its own, hooking itself in and settling down to get comfortable. Plus, for a two-piece, they make a lovely racket.
I love everything about Ithaca. Not only is Language of Injury a rager of a hardcore album that refuses to stay in one place throwing post-rock, doom and all sorts of lovely stuff in there, but they’re also a fucking kickass live band. Then, like a particularly delightful cherry on top of the cake, they come across as awesome people, willing to stand up for what they believe in and call people out on their bullshit. That’s a pretty perfect combination, no?
“‘There’s no one listening, but there’s no excuse to pipe down’ is the cathartic scream on ‘The Safety Word is Oklahoma’, the opener to Caprice Enchanté. There are a lot of words on this album that could be interpreted in a lot of ways, but those aren’t too difficult, particularly when combined with lines like ‘I’ve been sucking all the wrong dicks trying to keep myself afloat’. It is the sound of The St Pierre Snake Invasion deciding to fuck it. They might never be the biggest band on the planet, but they can still be great, so they’re going to throw all the shit at the wall and have a mosh whether it sticks or not.” – Me, about six months ago. Yup, I just quoted myself rather than writing something new. That’s the kind of high-quality work you get on this website.
Chelsea Wolfe never fails to astound me. Her music is dark, brooding and claustrophobic, lying heavy on your shoulders as she takes the breath from a room through these astonishing songs. And on Birth Of Violence, she draws it all back, stripping things down and putting herself and a guitar at the centre of the performance. It’s an astonishing thing, and I will never tire of listening to what she can do.
Remember what I said about heavy music? Yea, this is one of the albums I’ve been listening to that kind of ruins my point. A slab of ferocious grindcore, but one that in songs like ‘Thundering Hammers’ finds some genuine groove, thrusting its way through the chaos to get you to bang your head. Not that it makes it any less heavy, this is twenty-five minutes of getting the shit kicked out of you, and who doesn’t want that?
Hip-hop and I have never really got along. We come from very different worlds, and while there are obviously artists I like and respect, it’s an occasional relationship rather than a sustained one. However, after hearing Stephen Hill of the fantastic Riot Act podcast go to bat for this album, I had to try it out, and fucking hell, it might not be what your standard metalhead calls heavy, but it’s heavy. A twisted and unsettling piece of music that wriggles its way into your mind and stays there, haunting its darkest corners. Its genius, though, comes in getting out of the way of rapper Daveed Diggs, a man who can seemingly do it all. If there is more hip-hop like this in the world (please, if you know, recommend it), then we might be able to start a beautiful friendship.
Another album that came from Riot Act, Her Name is Calla are a band I’d never heard of, and now I’ve fallen for them just as they’ve gone away. Animal Choir is an intoxicating release, drenched in all the best parts of music. It can go from heavy and foreboding to uplifting and beautiful on the flip of a coin, yet it never once feels crushed together, flowing seamlessly from track to track. This album is something special, and it breaks my heart that a band like this will probably never get the respect they deserve.
I can’t sit here and tell you that Caligula is an album I listen to a lot and I’m not about to suggest you shove it on your headphones as you get ready for a night out. It is the rawest pieces of music I’ve ever head as Lingua Ignota rips out her soul, shoving it in your face and demanding you stand witness. It’s also a masterpiece, and if I were ranking this list based on anything other than personal preference, it would occupy the number one spot. Over eleven songs it veers from the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard to moments of pure beauty before diving back down into the darkness, dragging you with it as she roars her pain into your face. Caligula is extraordinary, and it has to be heard.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are otherworldly, aren’t they? How long has he been doing this stuff? And he still creates music that blows me away. Yet, somehow, it’s only really been this year that I’ve grown to appreciate him and to love that music. Christ, what an idiot. Ghosteen, like Skeleton Tree before it, is an album drenched in grief while also being one that celebrates the beauty of life. It’s the musical equivalent of accepting your sadness and wrapping yourself in it while vowing to walk on, and Cave continues to be the master.
Brutus are only on their second album, and yet they have already crafted a sound that is uniquely Brutus. That combination of post-hardcore and whatever else is in there is brilliant and I can never figure out how to describe it, which is a bit annoying for someone who spends a lot of time rambling on about things. However, I know I love it, and on Nest, they have taken a huge leap forward, which when you’re that good already is always an exciting sign.
What turns an album of really good songs into an album of great ones? Personally, I think its when those songs mean something to the people singing them. When they are singing about themselves and their lives, then they take on an energy and life that it’s impossible to ignore. That’s the feeling I get when I listen to Deals, Deals, Deals! It’s music made by people that have lived every word they sing, and that turns these songs into something special.
I’ve owned a bunch of La Dispute album and they have never done anything for me. Until Panorama, that is. I don’t know what’s changed, but something has because this album sweeps over me and drives me along with it until suddenly forty-odd minutes have passed and I’m somewhere else, eyes-wide and confused, but knowing I’ve had a lovely time. I haven’t gone back to those other albums since because, well, I’ve been listening to this, but if like me, you’ve previously dismissed La Dispute, it might be time to give them another go.
When did Baroness become the master of writing massive alt-rock songs? They are one of these bands that trundle along doing their thing, and that thing happens to be brilliant. Every time I turn on Gold & Grey, it catches me off-guard by delivering song after song that I know every word to because they are that damn good. I don’t know when it happened, but I hope it never stops.
Petrol Girls are one of the bands on this list that are as important as an idea as they are musicians. They stand up for all the right things, and whether it is Solidarity Not Silence or the local charities they bring along at shows, they are everything I want my music to be. On top of that, Cut and Stitch was a huge step forward from their already brilliant debut. That wild anger is still there, but it’s been focused and channelled into something incredible. Please, if you aren’t already, support bands like this because we need them.
Does anyone do spiteful snark the way Pup do spiteful snark? The songs on Morbid Stuff sound like big punk bangers but scratch not very far beneath the surface, and there is a vicious, angry streak to this album. This is music that sneers at the world, poking at it with razor-sharp wit and choruses that make you want to spin-kick a bridge. Why a bridge? Fuck knows, but I’m going to do it. Have I got across that I love Pup? I do, and Morbid Stuff should be all the proof you need as to why.
Employed To Serve have gone from a frantic unhinged hardcore band to one of, if not the best, metal bands the UK has. Eternal Forward Motion still has that wild abandon that they broke through with, but it’s also focused and driven. Songs like ‘Force Fed’, ‘Harsh Truth’ and ‘Owed Zero’ is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders and fuck, it’s still only their third album. Imagine if they got better?
An album from the fictional alter-ego of Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell should not feel so real and alive, yet Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties has become the soundtrack to my year. This simple tale of a man battling back from a divorce that sent him off the rails (covered in Aaron West’s previous releases) was apparently everything I needed as I can’t quite put into words how much I have grown to love this album.
I’ve loved Nervus since I first heard Permanent Rainbow on an Independent stream a couple of years back and that love has only grown. Like a few bands mentioned on this list, I believe they are a force for good, pissing off all the right people and standing up for the right causes. They also happen to write some of my favourite songs. Tough Crowd is the best thing they’ve done yet, as no album born from hatred of Tory austerity should be this joyous and hopeful. There is anger there, how can there not be? But in songs like ‘Burn’ Nervus provide a light to cling to, and fuck, do we need that shit sometimes.