For most music fans, it’s routine at the end of the year to look back at the past 12 months and pick out their favourite releases of the year. For me, in previous years I’ve had to begin thinking about my end of year list in October, if not earlier. As a writer and editor, I was fortunate to hear a wide range of releases every year, yet the downside of that is that you become overloaded with music and, at times, great releases don’t get the right amount of appreciation as you’ve already moved on to the next one.
Throughout 2019 my music listening habits have somewhat changed. One of the reasons I decided to bring Already Heard to a close was because I found listening to music a chore, even when it was something I liked. The fortunate position of being a music fan and listening to new music (often in advance) no longer felt like a privilege.
Ever since putting the website on hiatus in August, I’ve gradually found listening to music again enjoyable. It’s allowed me to soak in music properly without having to think about how I am going to critique it.
So I’ve compiled a list of my favourite albums of 2019, and because I’m not “required” to put them in a list of favourability, I’m not ranking these in any order. Apologies if I’ve missed something “major/significant”, I can’t listen to everything.
Upon first hearing ‘Pretty Buff’, I was unsure what to make of it. With members of Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice involved, I was under the preconception that this would be a hardcore record. Nevertheless, the more I listened to ‘Pretty Buff’, the more I enjoyed it. Since its release in March, the Baltimore’s band collection of acoustic-heavy, jangly and upbeat songs have been listened to often.
Filled with infectious hooks (see ‘Bang My Drum’, ‘On My Way’ and ‘Let Me Know’), there is a laid back, even fun, demeanour to these songs that stay subtly anchored to the band’s hardcore and punk roots.
Brutus – Nest
I’ve been a fan of Brutus since I was introduced to them with the release of ‘All Along’ and the subsequent debut LP, ‘Burst’. Although that album set the benchmark high for its follow-up, the Belgian trio undoubtedly succeeded with the release of ‘Nest’.
It simply took what they did previously; a powerful blend of metal, hardcore and rock with towering choruses, and improved on it. Throughout, Stefanie Mannaerts (drums and vocals), Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitarist), and Peter Mulders (bassist) each leave their heavy mark with dynamic execution. ‘Nest’ benefits from the band’s experiences that ‘Burst’ brought them, making them tighter allowing a deeper emotional core to develop with stunning results.
Songs such as ‘Cemetry’ and ‘Techno’ soar above and beyond, sounding absolutely massive in the process. While ‘War’ is a beautiful highlight that gently draws you in before radiantly exploding. Likewise, ‘Sugar Dragon’ proves to be an empowering finale that brilliantly ties the album up.
I knew very little about Ceres before they arrived in my inbox early in the year. It’s more than likely the press release included a comparison to some of my favourite emo/rock bands, therefore the Melbourne group had my attention.
Their third album, ‘We Are a Team’, is a pleasing, optimistic emo record that sees the theme of positivity and affection thread it together. Fronted by Tom Lanyon, it is his narrative that proves to be so enticing for these 11 songs with marriage popping up throughout. Coated in melancholy, Lanyon’s words are blissful yet shows vulnerability. Ultimately, the romantic sentimentality combined with the pleasing melodic emo rock (see ‘Dancing Patterns’ and ‘I Feel Better Outside’) and the occasional glimpses of intimacy (‘Stay Awake’ and ‘Water the Garden’) makes ‘We Are a Team’ a satisfying, even charming, album.
In previous years when Jimmy Eat World have released albums and I’ve put together an end of year list, my favourite band were hardly featured, if at all. That’s not the case with ‘Surviving’. After 20+ years as a band, the Arizona band’s tenth record is an unfiltered collection of bold emo rock that harks back to the past as much as it looks to the future.
Where recent albums faltered in a strong lack of consistency, ‘Surviving’ is considerably Jimmy Eat World’s most consistent record in over a decade. This is perhaps due to its short run time over 10 songs, yet it allowed the quartet to hone in on their strengths. ‘Criminal Energy‘, ‘All The Way (Stay)’ and ‘Love Never’ fill the void of providing massive, catchy radio-friendly rock. While the polarising ‘555’ touches on the band’s “experimental” approach yet is neatly executed. Elsewhere, ‘Diamond’ and ‘One Mil’ are delivered with a comforting sense of familiarity.
From the smattering of singles Holding Absence had delivered prior to the release of this self-titled debut, I had a feeling that they was something special about them. Yet I didn’t expect the album to be this good.
With the powerhouse vocals of Lucas Woodland at the forefront, the Cardiff based band produced one of the best debut albums of the year. Backed by a compelling emotional spine, supported by powerful cinematic choruses and cathartic ballads, each song is delivered with a wave of emotion that adds to Woodland’s narrative.
I was sceptical about the method the enigmatic group known as Sleep Token were releasing material up to the release of ‘Sundowning’. With songs being released bi-weekly from June until November, I was unsure if the finished collection would keep me interested. Nevertheless, it proved to be a smart decision from the mysterious band as each song only made me adore them even more.
Each track provided another colour to Sleep Token’s sound pallet. From the solemn opening of ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ to the minimalistic electronic drums on ‘Dark Signs’ to the scathing heaviness of ‘Gods’ to harmonious cuts such as ‘Say That You Will’ and ‘Take Aim‘, Sleep Token have honed in on a dynamic sound that treads the fine line of dark and light, creating an ethereal world in the process.
While the band’s identity may be unknown, ‘Sundowning’ allows them to paint a picture that is human, provoking rich emotion at every turn. Sleep Token are a special band on the brink of big things.
At one point early in the year, ‘The Sleepwalk Transmissions’, the second album from We Never Learned To Live was a record I recommended to anyone who would listen to me. And it’s easy to see why. A sonic ball of crushing post-hardcore wrapped in a sci-fi narrative skin that comfortably avoids alienating the listener.
With its atmospheric undertone combining with a furious yet melodic instrumentation, songs such as ‘Android Anaesthetist’, ‘Luma/Non Luma’ and ‘Owari’ thrive under the weight of heaviness and Sean Mahon’s dynamic vocals.
WNLTL crafted a cohesive record that is engaging and powerful in equal measure.
The debut LP from Brighton trio Gender Roles caught me by surprise. It arrived at a time when my enthusiasm to listen to [new] music was low, so it wasn’t until a few weeks after its late August release I decided to give ‘PRANG’ a listen. And then it didn’t leave my ears for days.
With its rough-around-the-edges DIY tone, Gender Roles delivered a set of infectious indie punk jams that are equally riotous and infectious (‘You Look Like Death’, ‘Tip of My Tongue’ and ‘If That’s How You Want It to Be’). Ultimately, it’s a thrill ride of relatable, catchy songs that is neatly tied up by album closer, ‘Bubble’.
Proper. – I Spent The Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better
The Menzingers – Hello Exile
FEVER333 – Strength In Numb333rs
Cultdreams – Things That Hurt
Employed To Serve – Eternal Forward Motion
Renounced – Beauty Is A Destructive Angel
Lakes – Constance
Pkew Pkew Pkew – Optimal Lifestyles
Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
Merrick’s Tusk – Between the Earth and the Trees
The St. Pierre Snake Invasion – Caprice Enchante
Dude Trips – Through Love And Death You’re All I Have Left
Favourite EP’s of 2019:
Favourite Albums of the Decade (in no particular order)
The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There
Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface
Touché Amoré – Stage Four
Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz
The Menzingers – After the Party
Trophy Eyes – Chemical Miracle
The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Turnstile – Time & Space
Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is an Animal
The Story So Far – Under Soil and Dirt
Superheaven – Ours Is Chrome
Black Peaks – All That Divides
Boston Manor – Be Nothing.
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
P.S. There are probably some obvious records that I’m missing out but a decade is a long time.