Here we are again, friends. Another year has come and gone. Twelve tumultuous months. I could dwell on how bad things are right now. And they are extremely bad. But music is the one true light we have. Here are the artists who shined brightest during 2019:
#10. Sigrid – Sucker Punch
I really went back and forth on this one. It competed for its place on this list with Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Let’s call Eilish’s debut our number 11. Let’s also call it a better album than Sigrid’s debut. So why didn’t it make the list?
Basically, Sucker Punch filled a void. As much as I admire and enjoy …Where Do We Go? I just didn’t connect with it on as many levels.
Sucker Punch was my go-to pop album of the year. I beat this damn thing to death. At one point “Strangers” was on constant repeat. Any opportunity I had to put it on loud at work, I took.
Like the Scandinavian artist you’ll find at number 6, Sigrid is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter with a lot of confidence in her abilities. Her set at Glastonbury 2019 was superb, and that same energy and love of performing shine through on Sucker Punch.
The title track is the album’s lowest point, but it’s still a neat 90s throwback. I could probably write an entire series on why I love “Strangers” so much, but it’s worth noting that there is a lot of strong content here.
For me, “Never Mine” is the song which deserves a huge salute. I don’t love it as much as “Strangers,” but it’s the one with the most interesting concept. A song about yearning and the distinctions between what’s real and imagined in relationships.
A recurring theme on this list will be that of newer artists who I’m certain are heading towards bigger and brighter futures. This is certainly the case when it comes to Sigrid Solbakk Raabe.
Where to find her: Sigrid’s Official Site.
#9. Vylet Pony – Homeward
I’m pretty confident in saying that Vylet Pony is my favourite artist of the past decade. Possibly of all time. I am not joking.
Glitter was my pick for best album of 2018. Not only was I floored by Vylet’s incredible talent and ability to master any genre of her choice; but it was also an album which gave me great comfort during what was an otherwise entirely shitty year.
Homeward dropped in early January. While I was excited about its release, I found myself unable to write about it. As I discussed in my review of Love Letters: Colourless, I was daunted by its place in the Starship Ponyville canon. That, along with the intricacies of its themes and construction meant I wasn’t confident that I could give it the careful analysis it deserved.
But it remains a damn fine listen. The standout tracks stand very, very tall. “Monolith to a Halcyon” is modern prog-rock bliss. “Swarm” is heavy-hitting dubstep and the perfect soundtrack to a relentless alien assault. And then there is “Square One.”
The second track on Homeward, “Square One” is where Vylet (along with artists Slyleaf and FlyoverRob) blast off. It’s slick electro-funk with a kick-ass, defiant and triumphant chorus. There were many moments throughout this year where you’d find me unapologetically bellowing ‘WE WANT IT ALL’ and ‘SQUARE OOONNNNNNEEEEEE!!!!’ at the top of my lungs.
I got a look of weird looks out on the street. I didn’t care, because this album made it all worthwhile.
Where to start? Vylet Pony on Bandcamp.
#8. Glitch Mode Recordings – Now That’s What I Call Angry Robot Music 2019
I used to have this weird, entirely arbitrary rule. Whenever I came up with a list of best albums, I would automatically exclude compilations.
There wasn’t one on the field last year, but even if there was, it wouldn’t have made the cut. My…reasoning was that comps are simply collections of songs. Albums are supposed to be deliberately curated. Tracks brought together to create a cohesive whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
But this isn’t true of all single-artist albums, and there’s no reason why comps can’t be like this. I was just being really, really dumb. And producing the Pastel Wasteland Playlists hammered this point home.
Now That’s What I Call Angry Robot Music 2019 more than deserves its place on this list. In my review, I noted how Angry Robot Music took me back to happier times. A time when VNV Nation and Apoptygma Berserk were fixtures in my earholes.
Nostalgia is great and all, but this isn’t where the true value of Angry Robot Music comes from. It’s a superb showcase of some of the best dark artists and producers working today.
Cyanotic’s remix of KANGA’s “Going Red” was super hot industrial. Un5ub5ex’s “Bloodlust” is a phenomenal club anthem, and Paralyze’s “Serial Experiment” set off a bomb under me.
If you have even a passing interest in dark electronica, then this is a great place to start.
#7. LV.4 – Social Outcast
Thanks to the Japanese, I had a lot of fun in 2019. I became hardcore invested in VOCALOID culture, having taken Minecraft creator and Father Ted writer Hatsune Miku into my heart. I also delved deeper into the hyper-space mania of acts like LV.4.
I hadn’t listened to Social Outcast between publishing my review and my preparation for this list. But nothing has changed. Social Outcast still lights me up. Not strictly in terms of putting a smile on my face (though it most certainly does), but also in the sense that I burst into flames while listening to it.
This album makes you feel alive. Admittedly you may not live long, given the excessive rate it causes your heart to beat at, but still.
There are a number of other genres and topics I’d love to cover in more depth during 2020. J-Core is certainly one of them, and I expect that I will be coming back to LV.4 time and time again.
Punch it: LV.4 on Bandcamp.
#6. Aurora – A Different Kind of Human (Step 2)
I didn’t like this album the first time I heard it. Weird electro-pop is very much my thing, but there was something about A Different Kind of Human (Step 2) which didn’t sit right with me. It felt too obvious. A weird mix of modern synth-pop, tribal phrases and oblique pseudo-spiritual imagery. But as with Fickle Friends’ You Are Someone Else (from last year’s list), I found myself coming back to it again and again.
It’s won me over. Aurora is the closest thing we have to a new Bjork. She has a very singular creative vision, which she commits to confidently and wholeheartedly. And there’s also the fact that, as a person, she’s just so delightfully weird.
A Different Kind of Human feels like less of a mishmash of pretentious ideas to me now. It’s more like a cryptic manifesto. Aurora believes in humanity and the beauty of nature. But she’s also fueled by a determination to break down barriers and tackle the evils and ills of this world.
She may be a tiny, bizarre Nordic pixie, but you shouldn’t underestimate her. You certainly shouldn’t write her off as “That-girl-who-covered-that-Oasis-song.” Over the next decade, we will see her flourish and establish herself as a significant indie-icon. And A Different Kind of Human (Step 2) is where my confidence about this stems from.
Enter The Queendom: Aurora’s Official Site.
#5. Vylet Pony – Love Letters: Colourless
Another arbitrary rule I used to have was: “One album per artist.” I wanted to acknowledge the best foot an artist had put forward. The best work they’d released within a particular year. As if that could cover absolutely everything.
Again, I was being really dumb. Especially when you’re discussing such an inspired, chameleonic talent like Vylet’s. Yes, there are common threads to every artist’s work, but she is such a treasure trove of musical ideas that it’s foolhardy to limit your appreciation of her.
Homeward was an epic space-opera. Love Letters: Colourless is a crushing story of love, lust, longing, fear, jealousy and a million other…concerns. A very human story explored through ponies and across 20 monumental songs.
The original release was accompanied by Rainbow Dash’s Diary. A fascinating document which really added to the overall experience. But Love Letters: Colourless stands triumphant on its own.
There are so many great tracks on this album, though two deserve particular attention. “Pheromone” is an upbeat sex-jam which is also the soundtrack to someone living in complete denial about their situation. And then there is “At The End of the Rainbow.”
I mentioned that I beat Sigrid’s “Strangers” to death this year. Well “…Rainbow” was the song I listened to nearly as much. It’s dark, it’s seething but oh my God is it sublime. Its dark beauty matches its emotional resonance and weight. It’s a near-perfect example of conception and execution. No lie – I’m excited to be writing about it again.
I have to call it: “At the End of the Rainbow” is the Best Song of 2019. And it comes from one of the best artists living and working today.
Seriously, check out Vylet’s Bandcamp.
#4. Eyeshadow 2600 FM – Terminus
In my review of Terminus, I stated how this was the album I’d always hoped Meryl S. Kavanagh would make.
I wasn’t specifically yearning for a cyberpunk, Mass Effect inspired concept album, but I was hoping to see her flourish and assert herself. To truly distinguish herself from her retrowave peers.
I appreciate any artist who seeks to challenge and experiment. On Terminus, Kavanagh does both, and so much more besides. Terminus is exciting, entertaining, dynamic and carries plenty of heart.
It also engaged me on a more critical level. Terminus certainly was a challenge to the purists – those who have very rigid ideas about what is and isn’t retrowave. This is an album based around a 21st-century gaming franchise, but also one which fans of the genre can still gain enormous enjoyment from.
With her latest album Ride Eternal out now, it looks like 2020 is going to be a big year for one of my favourite artists. And Terminus represents her first big step into a brave new world.
She’s a Spectre: Eyeshadow 2600 FM on Bandcamp.
#3. Black Dresses – Thank You
It was inevitable that Ada Rook would wind up on this year’s list. She took the number 2 spot last year, and she continues to be one of the most vital and ferociously talented artists on the frontiers of electronica.
But her output in 2019 was characterised by her various collaborations. Most of her enormous energy has been poured into Black Dresses – the project she shares with equally formidable Canadian Devi McCallion.
No, no: thank you. Thank you for the ferocious catharsis. Thank You is another stellar example of raw emotion and honesty. And the envelope-pushing approaches to composition, production and performance I’ve come to expect from these incredible artists.
As with Vylet Pony, Black Dresses are an act that I would love to see dominate the music world. But in this instance, there is no conceivable way that can happen. The world at large simply cannot handle anything this incendiary.
Which is a colossal shame because, in a time of increasingly dark tidings, an album like Thank You feels more necessary than ever before.
You are loved: Black Dresses on Bandcamp.
#2. Wildwood Kin – Wildwood Kin
I’ve developed this love of artists who lean heavily on harmonies. Oh Wonder has a nice line in this, but my go-to for the longest time has been the outrageously overlooked vverevvolf.
Now I can add Wildwood Kin to the list. The Devon three-piece perform beautifully. And their self-titled sophomore effort is equally beautiful. But it’s also dripping with atmosphere and subtle expressions of complicated emotions.
The production is pretty simple. Beautiful guitar lines, uncomplicated percussion. But those vocals – every word coming from the lips of Meghann Loney and Beth and Emillie Key sounds divine.
“Signals” and “Never Alone” are two of 2019’s best songs. “The Crown” is better than both of them.
“The Crown” is the closest thing Wildwood Kin have to a soaring anthem, though it doesn’t break away from the general tone of the rest of the album. “The Crown” is about pressure and strife. It carries darker themes, but it feels epic and somehow hopeful. Acknowledging the weights you carry means you can rise to the challenge. And I’m very grateful that an act like Wildwood Kin can communicate this in such an exceptional way.
You’re never alone: Wildwood Kin’s Official Site.
#1. LILLITH twin – Of Flame & Love
And so, the Best Album of 2019: LILLITH twin’s Of Flame & Love.
A trend I’ve noticed is that my pick for best movie, comic, show…whatever cements in me as soon as I encounter it. In my YouTube days, I was confident that Logan was the best film of 2017 as soon as I’d left the cinema. Last year I knew that Vylet Pony’s Glitter would be up there.
The same goes for LILLITH twin’s Of Flame & Love. I felt my mind expand that first time I heard it. I’ve only listened to it a handful of times since, but the effect remains the same.
This album is stunning on every level. Technically it’s polished without being vapid. It’s tight and brimming with ideas. But crucially, it introduced me to a whole new of genre music. And it led me on a journey.
Can I say that this is the most entertaining album of the year? No. This is not a casual listen. If I need cheering up, I won’t put it on. If I’m angry and need to blow up, it’s not there for me. But Of Flame & Love provides something unique. Something I wasn’t even aware I was missing.
Expand your mind: Dream Catalogue Official Site.