2019 could probably be remembered as the year where “bedroom producers” becomes the mainstream. Thanks to the accessibility of music making software, and the limitless accessibility of sharing such music, particularly on online services such as SoundCloud. While Billie Eilish and Finneas spearheads the success of this movement, Clairo is another worthy name that should be part of the conversation. Clairo’s debut album Immunity displays a mastery of the relaxed but warm low-fi production that made her viral. But what is more captivating is the intensely intimate songwriting and lyricism. Clairo connects with the telling of very vulnerable situations that many of us find ourselves in, but struggle to express.
As a devout Christian myself, I am often averse to religious references in popular music as I feel it is done either in a tactless manner, or in a manner that is derisive with judgement and condemnation, usually towards religious people. Now I am not opposed or offended by the latter, people have every right to express these sentiments, especially towards institutions that have failed their moral responsibility. However, there often comes along an album that appropriately and sensitively handles the struggles of morality and religion. That album for me, is Gang of Youth’s 2nd album Go Farther In Lightness, where I could really connect with feelings of struggle, loss, and doubt.
Ginger is similar in many regards, especially due to many members of BROCKHAMPTON having grown up in conservative Texas, and that a nominal Christian culture is tied in with many of the African American community. The album is a slow burn, with little upbeat moments for release, but tension is built until it is released in DEARLY DEPARTED, the most emotional track on the album. A full listen of this is wrought with angst that only BROCKHAMPTON can convey, and in a way that I feel is most representative of what our youth is feeling in this age.
I have many thoughts on Coldplay’s 2010s output. But what really hasn’t been discussed that much, in my opinion, is the impact of Chris Martin’s divorce with Paltrow which, again in my opinion, defined their 2014 Ghost Stories which was released around a similar time. Coldplay didn’t do their usual stadium tour following the release of this album, but then went back to work on their next album A Head Full of Dreams which felt like a verse to the mean established from Mylo Xyloto.
Everyday Life looks like a reversion back to Ghost Stories onface value, but an observance of the finer details reveals some uncharted territory for them in this decade. At least in recent times, this is by far their most political album and their most experimental from a genre-exploration perspective. ”Guns,” is unsubtle about the 2nd Amendment and “Trouble In Town” tells of a horrifying event where an ordinary innocent man is racially profiled by the police. Perhaps what is most foreboding is that the album concludes that this is “Everyday Life.” A standout for me is the Rachmaninoff-esque “When I Need A Friend,” a beautiful choral acapella song that I wish was 10 times longer than it is.
If you didn’t know, I love this gal. There is a real sense of youth and innocence in her songwriting that I just love. Heard It In A Past Life is a wonderful display of her eclectic indie-folk-electronic production, youthful songwriting and angelic voice. This combination really resonates with me, and I find my imagination is taken to another world when I listen to it. I do find this album disappointing, however, because for some reason she decided not to put on it the best two songs she’s released in her career.
James Blake loves working with hip-hop artists, and they love working with him! Assume Form essentially pits his electronic style with the talents of Metro Boomin and Dominic Maker with many high-profile features including Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, Rosalia and Andre 3000 leaving marks impressionable mark on the album. I’m not James Blake expert but it’s essentially James Blake’s own mastery of production experimenting with hip-hop and trap. Given his recent success with Beyonce and many others, you can’t really go wrong there.
I do find amusing how Mark Fisher writes that "listening back to Blake's records in chronological sequence is like hearing a ghost gradually assume material form; or it's like hearing the song form (re)coalescing out of digital ether." The titling of Assume Form may as well be a direct response to this,
As a person of colour, I have experienced first-hand the harsh realities of racism. Thelma Plum takes her experiences and expresses her reaction with hurt, anger, forgiveness, strength, and most importantly, triumph. No other word sums this up better. Better In Blak is a very heartfelt, expressive, and personal debut album, and Thelma’s experience is inspiring in how you can turn a most hurtful situation into empowerment.
Imagine you’re in a rural town in Northern England. Run down, economically struggling, everyone probably voted for Brexit. In Hypersonic Missiles, Fender describes the harsh realities of working class people that have been left behind with stories of broken families, and struggles with social and political identities. While Ed Sheeran fondly looks at his childhood growing up in “Castle on the Hill,” Fender observes the bitterness, apathy, and hopelessness of his situation. If Fender really was going for Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.,” he’s come pretty close to being just as good.
Harry Styles surprised critics and the music world with his debut album in 2017, which was heavily inspired by homages of music of decades gone by. Fine Line continues this trend but with more maturity and understanding of the delicate balance between homage and imitation. This results in a fantastic contemporary pop album that is musically satisfying. I still, however, feel the best of Harry is yet to come.
#2 – BILLIE EILISH – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Billie Eilish had been simmering underground for a few years at this point, so if were caught out by her sudden success in 2019, it meant you actually weren’t paying attention. But why the huge success? Listening to the album, it is very evident. No one better captured the struggling inwardly-chaotic emotional rollercoaster of youth than Eilish did in 2019. Her deft songwriting told situations of emotional outpourings of lost love, to caricatures of common characters, to naively discussing substance abuse, to dealing with the ever so sensitive issue of mental health. While Finneas production is extremely effective and complements perfectly with Eilish’s vocal performance, it was the prodigious display of her songwriting and lyricism that had me sold. This album is excellent and Billie Eilish deserved all the success she received in 2019.
Sometimes you come across an album that isn’t necessarily avant garde or musically challenging, but is simply a mastery of its particular style in every way, from writing, to execution in performance. That’s what I felt about Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour and it’s also how I exactly felt about Run Home Slow, which took the Teskey Brothers to a few ARIA Awards in 2019. Listening to this album felt so easy and I was instantly taken to the American South fifty years ago where everything seemed blissful, life was uncomplicated, and living was easy (although I do acknowledge that reality was the harsh opposite). Josh Teskey’s vocal is perfect for the blues rock style, and the brass accompaniment keeps the album sounding fresh throughout. But what stuck out to me most, was that listening to this album brought me a sense of happiness, peace. and simplicity that I had simply not felt for a long time.