From wistful singer-songwriters and haunted hip-hop to glacial electronica and strident jazz, Michael Sumsion gives you the low-down on his picks for the best albums to have emerged in 2019 so far.
As we reach the final stretch of summer and autumn beckons, the time seems right to take stock and indulge in some sober contemplation about the year’s glut of musical riches. 2019 has produced a plethora of fine, invigorating sounds across a wide spectrum of styles and genres; here are the records that have bathed my ears.
1) Weyes Blood: ‘Titanic Rising’ (Sub Pop)
Natalie Mering’s fourth, ecologically themed album under the Weyes Blood moniker is perhaps the year’s most complete and cohesive musical statement; the American musician pairs eerie, hymnal ballads with electro-draped washes of bliss.
2) Florist: ‘Emily Alone’ (Double Double Whammy)
A solo recording by Florist’s leader Emily Sprague in all but name, ‘Emily Alone’ is the hushed, meditative evocation of loss and new beginnings, charting the emotional terrain connected to the loss of a parent, the demise of a relationship and a cross-country re-location. Steeped in the tingly haze of confessional folk, it is a strangely comforting blanket of melancholy to tickle the synapses.
3) Tourist: ‘Everyday’ (Monday)
The second album by British musician William Phillips is an intricate, mournful slice of twitchy early-hours electronica that bears the influence of Jamie XX, Boards Of Canada, Four Tet, Jon Hopkins and Burial in its DNA, yet manages to retain a digitised gravitas all of its own. Expertly produced, taut downtempo music that soothes the soul and laps at your ears.
4) Bon Iver: ‘i, i’ (Jagjaguwar)
Wisconsin troubadour Justin Vernon’s latest baroque missive is an impressive and deft amalgamation of the myriad styles of his previous output, merging glitchy, digital filigrees and stripped-back folk with jazz riffs, bleeping electronics and soft rock. ‘Hey, Ma’ embodies the Auto-crooning singer’s nimble and freewheeling approach, utterly indebted to the contemporary soundscape but hard-wired to a timeless, elegiac vision of Americana.
5) The Comet Is Coming: ‘Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery’ (Impulse)
Where this London trio’s Mercury Prize-nominated debut clearly displayed a kinship with the astral jazz of Coltranes John and Alice, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry, their latest, exhilarating offering dives into grime, electronica, 70’s prog and G-funk for a purposeful and forward-thinking re-drafting of cosmic abstraction. King Shabaka, Danalogue and Betamax’s smoky, inter-galactic hybrid resists categorisation, a free-flowing rumble of analogue synths, post-rock, drum-‘n’ bass and dub-wise Afro-futurism embedded in the spirit of 60’s and 70’s jazz exploration.
6) Aldous Harding: ‘Designer’ (4AD).
The enigmatic New Zealander’s latest opus oozes an elegant self-assurance as she burnishes her off-kilter folk-pop with punchier arrangements and a broader range of instrumentation. Her lyrical content here is as oblique as ever and her vocal stylings continue to experiment with texture, but this is a slinky record of hidden depths which repays repeated exposure.
7) William Tyler: ‘Goes West’ (Merge).
The former Lambchop and Silver Jews guitarist makes dreamy, instrumental, acoustic guitar-based Americana, emitting slow, ruminative ripples of sound that evoke the open road and the natural world: sunsets and wind chimes, the rustling of leaves on trees and pebbles splashing on water. Think of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, the clean, finger-picking serenity of Nick Drake’s ‘Five Leaves Left’ and Michael Chapman’s pensive reveries. His latest collection creates a series of beguiling, crystalline patterns that wield a hypnotic, meditative power: this ‘cosmic pastoral’ approximates an uncanny, smooth breeze.
8) Native Harrow: ‘Happier Now’ (Different Time).
Former ballerina and classically trained singer Devin Tuel’s third outing as Native Harrow with multi-instrumentalist sidekick Stephen Harms captures the 1970’s hippy sound of Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter folk with a languid, spacious breeziness, particularly on ‘Way To Light’ and the Joni Mitchell-infused title cut. A set of intimate, tight-knit narratives about love, loss, fear and relationships, ‘Happier Now’ wears its swooning Carole King and Judee Sill inflections with refreshing lashes of jazz and gospel-fuelled soul.
9) Woods & Segal: ‘Hiding Places’ (Backwoodz Studioz).
On his compelling collaboration with veteran LA beat wizard Kenny Segal, the gritty Brooklyn rapper Billy Woods loosens his chops on a bleak and foreboding distillation of the black American experience. Grim, claustrophobic diary entry stories containing devastating turns of phrase and poetic imagery are amplified by the producer’s tense, shimmering backdrops.
10) Thom Yorke: ‘Anima’ (XL).
On his third solo effort, the Radiohead bard delivers a knotty, propulsive soundscape of dystopian anxiety and paralysis which represents his most holistic engagement with the textures and compositional cues of electronic music to date. A suite comprising internal monologue, electro confessional and dream-like elegy, its sense of menace surges in waves, offset by moments of cathartic beauty like ‘Twist’ and ‘Dawn Chorus’.
By Michael Sumsion