Here we are at the start of a new decade. And, here we are with a relaunched site and a new look for the freethinking movement. Refreshed, and ready to dive in. I’m looking forward to further re-invigorating these pages, and discovering more music…
There’s no better way to breathe some life back into the freethinking movement than through a celebration of all that last year had to offer. My 2019 ‘top ten’ list is the tenth iteration. As I look over the list, it’s pretty clear that it’s a reflection on where the world is right now, ranging from some pretty angry sounds through to sheer sonic beauty.
Let’s kick this off with my top pick for 2019…
W.H. Lung – ‘Incidental Music’
I’ll have this all day long. From the swirling, simmering build of opener ‘Simpatico People’ it’s immediately clear that this is an album of timeless, impressive depth. Draped in the influences of a bygone Manchester, while also sounding entirely ‘of itself’, on ‘Incidental Music’ W.H. Lung are utterly assured, without being cocky. It’s World of Twist covering Alt-J. It’s an astonishing debut album, and I can’t recommend it enough.
That the band share a name with a Chinese supermarket where my wife used to buy Sriracha sauce from is also just epic.
And the rest, in no particular order…
Cinematic Orchestra – ‘To Believe’
On release, I shared that we simply didn’t deserve this album. At their best, the Cinematic Orchestra reach deep into your soul, and give it a gentle, yet appropriate, hug. ‘A Caged Bird / Imitations of Life’ is peak Cinematic Orchestra. It makes everything better.
Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Kiwanuka’
If ever there was any doubt that Michael Kiwanuka was the real deal, on ‘Kiwanuka’ he doesn’t so much as cast said doubts aside, he smacks them square in the face. Marvin, Curtis, Michael. It’s that simple.
Rosie Lowe – ‘YU’
In which a slow-burning slice of gloriously off-kilter soul percolates pretty much for the full year. The Invisible’s Dave Okumu was on co-production detail… and it shows. None more so than in ‘Birdsong’, truly one of the finest tunes of the year.
Elbow – ‘Giants of All Sizes’
Welcome back, Elbow. I thought we’d lost you. 2017’s ‘Little Fictions’ was, for this Elbow fan at least, a disappointment. Fast-forward to 2019, and the dark album, addressing death and tragedy (topics Guy Garvey has, to be fair, not exactly shied away from in the past) is an arresting, grown-up, thunderous achievement. They’re back. Properly back.
Sharon Van Etten – ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’
I love SVE. Like, properly love her. The rhetoric surrounding the release of ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ was that this was a departure in sound for her – and in ‘Comeback Kid’ the signs did point to that. With hindsight, it’s a totally natural progression in her sound. And look, the album has got ‘Seventeen’ on it – an absolute nailed-on classic from the first time you hear it.
Nilüfer Yanya – ‘Miss Universe’
Through most of 2019 I bored people with the proclamation that this was ‘the album of the year’. Dark, brooding, and sounding unlike anything else I’ve heard this or any other year. As a purveyor of proper, intelligent pop music, we’ve likely got much to look forward to from Nilüfer Yanya. I chuffing love this.
Jordan Rakei – ‘Origin’
‘Wallflower’ was superb. This is a step up. One of the most soulful albums of the year, and one which shines a light on Jordan Rakei as a producer of note. He’s got it all…
The Murder Capital – ‘When I Have Fears’
Earlier this year, a good mate of mine – and avowed lover of music – shared that he’d stopped listening to anything. Apart from this. He was excited about this album more than anything else he’d heard in years. Clearly, I bought it. I was astonished. It’s massive. I didn’t listen to anything else for a few weeks, either.
Sampa the Great – ‘The Return’
For a site which celebrates blurring genre boundaries, this was always going to hit home. Gospel, soul, hip-hop, jazz… and while punching hard with a political message, massively accessible. We need more of this.