As we near the halfway mark of 2019, the HeadStuff music writers have picked out 9 of the best albums of the year so far. From Bridie to Billie, scroll down to read about our personal favourites.
Grim Town – SOAK
Is this the coolest record ever made by someone named Bridie? I’m going to say yes without doing any further research on musicians named Bridie. Before We Forgot How To Dream signalled a bright future for Derry native SOAK and Grim Town feels like that future shifting into gear. The narrative themes have expanded since the first album and SOAK deftly crafts indie-pop gems with a raw lyrical edge. ‘Life Trainee’ nails it all down – even when it’s all gone to shite, it’s not the end of the world.
Nothing Happens – Wallows
After playing together for about ten years under various monikers, Wallows have finally released their debut album. Nothing Happens is 11 tracks of upbeat, dreamy indie-pop. Like their previous releases, every song feels like It belongs on an ’80s coming-of-age movie soundtrack. The trio are childhood friends and it’s easy to tell from the precision with which they play off each other. The long wait has been worth it. They took the time to get everything just right and they nailed it.
IGOR – Tyler, the Creator
Undergoing something of a late career renaissance despite his relatively young age, IGOR captures Tyler at his most impressionistic and emotional. Building upon the style forged on previous effort Flower Boy, the 28-year-old rapper/producer/singer/director/auteur rejects any semblance of traditional pop structure in favour of well-placed guest spots and recurring motifs – eerie synths with bold, bright harmonies and keys. Doomed relationships, sexuality, love and loss are all openly discussed in typically raw fashion. However, having eschewed the straight-for-the-jugular approach of his past, Tyler is now more charming than ever. He’s also more vulnerable and relatable. In a career previously marred by inconsistency and OTT antics, alt-rap’s Bart Simpson is two-for-two in this Mark II stage.
Father of the Bride – Vampire Weekend
A big jumble of ideas from Koenig and co. arrived on the back of a rather large hype train. After my first listen, I was a tad underwhelmed. Perhaps, a victim of my own excitement for the group’s first record since 2013. Father of the Bride – definitely named after the Steve Martin movie of the same title, no further questions – is a real grower. Ezra Koenig’s earworm lyrics crawl out of the rich Americana soil the band have been cultivating in their years away from the spotlight, meeting the day with bright sincerity.
Berkeley’s On Fire – SWMRS
This album is so broad I’m not even sure how to describe it. They’ve played around with different sounds and the dynamic changes get you hooked. You never know what’s going to come next. SWMRS have never been ones to shy away from politics – when they played here back in 2017 they were vocal in their support of the Repeal movement (and spicebags). Of course, this album is no different. On the title track they sing:
“My mama called me up because there’s fire on the streets
With all the Berkeley police
And they’re all slobs doing stupid jobs”
And there’s a particularly risky one in ‘Hellboy’ – “Charlie Manson is alright, it ain’t no worse than all the violence of, say, Jesus like, at least old Charlie took the blame for all the violence we committed in his name” – all amidst upbeat drums. They’re the type of band who make it extremely difficult not to sing along (even when you’re sitting alone in Supermac’s listening to them while writing a tiny review). Ultimately they’re just great fun.
Remind Me Tomorrow – Sharon Van Etten
If this album had just been the track ‘Seventeen’ ten times over I’d still have included it. Van Etten’s love letter to New York might be my favourite song of the year so far, rife with the kind of yearning only the passage of time can drum up. “I used to be free, I used to be seventeen” – my heart. The rest of the record is great as well, as Van Etten laces her indie-rock sensibilities with glitchy electronic production and some of the finest lyrics of her career. A bold, confident release, highlighting Van Etten’s capacity for reinvention.
Nothing Great About Britain – Slowthai
Tyron Kaymone Frampton is a 24-year-old English rapper of Irish and Bajan descent. His debut album offers a vital perspective on the ills of the United Kingdom’s desperate times. Brexit, the class war and wealth disparity are all tackled with a terrific sense of humour and literary honesty. In a hilarious fake-bourgeois accent, he delivers lines like:
“I will treat you with the utmost respect only if you respect me a little bit, Elizabeth. You cunt”
The political meets the personal on Nothing Great About Britain. ‘Northampton’s Child’ is a touching tribute to his single-mother upbringing in a perilous environment. Though the album dips a bit in the middle, there is plenty of variety and venom to keep listeners engaged. The opening track is grime by the numbers, while the urgent ‘Doorman’ kicks like a mule in a stable with Dizzee Rascal and Sleaford Mods. Samples of glue-sniffers and studio banter lend the record a feeling of authenticity, and it is Slowthai’s purity that holds it all together.
WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? – Billie Eilish
I used to be with it, then they changed what it was. Thankfully, I quite like the new it even if I don’t fully understand it. It’s doubtful that Billie Eilish gives a shit what anyone over the age of twenty thinks about this album. Truthfully, that’s the beauty of it really. The erratic structure of this record, full of brooding bops, is reflective of the mindset behind it. Eilish is wonderfully sardonic, direct and distant all at once, flipping between earnest and ironic with practised ease. The production is fantastic and, while I do think there are some weak songs on here, it’s a captivating listen.
Green and Gray – Pile
The seventh album from Boston cult indie heroes Pile debuts a new line-up (Chappy Hull and Alex Molini replace Matt Becker and Matt Connery on guitar and bass respectively) and a newfound sense of ambition, while maintaining the rage and muscle of their older work. Their most rewarding and diverse work to date, Green and Gray blends angular political malaise (‘The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller’), intense yet progressive songs (‘On A Bigger Screen’, ‘A Bug on Its Back’), staccato riffage in odd time signatures (‘Lord of Calendars’, ‘On A Bigger Screen’) and also considerable depth, ambience and maturity (‘Firewood’, ‘Hair’) to further cement the band’s reputation as your favourite band’s favourite band.