Hey, it's been a helluva year (so far!)
Well, what a year it’s been. Yes, you’re right, we’re only halfway through but we’ve been inundated with amazing albums, so let’s bathe our eyeballs in words about them, and then perhaps even inject our earholes with the sounds themselves, because the good times, surely – surely! – cannot last. (Spoiler alert: we’ve seen the release schedule and they most definitely can.) Anyway! You’re after loved-up electronica? Raucous punk? Near-perfect indie singer-songwriter stuff? Politicised veteran ska? Hoo boy, are you in luck.
Here, then, are the records that have been blaring out the NME office stereo since January (so far!).
The New Jersey singer-songwriter, having been away for five whole years, returned with the fantastic, thumping electo-pop of ‘Comeback Kid’, the first release from a record by turns reflective (‘I Told You Everything’), fierce (the whopping ‘Seventeen’) and raw (‘No One’s Easy To Love’).
The NME review concluded: ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ is full of beefy basslines and shuffling drum beats, while the slinking ‘You Shadow’ is both laid-back and arresting, as Van Etten’s piercing vocals act as the song’s driving force… [this] may well be her most intoxicating and impressive work to date.”
The feted producer, having previously submerged his identity in glitchy electronica and production credits for other artists, returned with a bold, bright album that stripped back the layers, offering unfiltered insights into his thoughts on mental health and a new relationship. And that Andre 3000 feature was great, too.
The NME review concluded: “‘Assume Form’ finds James Blake clear-headed and in focus like never before… The album’s opening title-track sets that newfound clarity front-and-centre. Gone is the hazy, south London night bus ambience of Blake gone by. In its place is a newfound sharpness.”
A marked progression from her previous (brilliant) post-punk albums, Eva Moolchan’s third record was a masterclass in understatement, drawing on hip-hop, ’90s rave and the post-punk scene from which she emerged; the tracks were short, clipped, like bangers slowed down and played backwards.
The NME review concluded: “‘Highway Hypnosis’ is Sneaks’ longest (just over 28 minutes) and by far most worked-up record to date, layers of electronic instrumentation demonstrating a keen attention to detail… A unique record from a self-assured talent.”
15 years into their career and light years from their deathcore beginnings, the Sheffield band embarked on an odyssey in sound, turning in a pop-metal album that touches on ambience, electro-pop and a cameo from Dani Filth.
The NME review concluded: “[This album is] proof alone that this band can do what they want and get away with it. There’s nothing as exciting as a surprise that pays off. It ain’t rocket science, it ain’t heavy metal, it’s just class songwriting.”
Surviving members of the veteran ska band addressed Brexit, austerity, Tory rule, Black Lives Matter and mental health on album eight, their first in 20 years, and what a blessed relief it is. This was fingers up to the establishment, delivered through the time-tested mediums of mellow ska, reggae and funk disco.
The NME review concluded: “These are tracks cutting deep into the malignant tumours of society, out to heal them by brutal, frank exposure… We need right-thinking rebel records like ‘Encore’ now more than ever.”
Only six months after her career high record ‘Sweetener’, one of the biggest names in pop surprise (ish) released this 12-track sassfest, an album that took tragedy and trauma and transmogrified it into pure pop magic.
The NME review concluded: “Above all, ‘Thank U, Next’ is a document of self-care; a guide to getting through bad times even when you think nothing could ever be good again.”
This crisp collection of retro-pop brilliance was overseen by STATS head honcho Ed Seed, who spent one year stitching jam sessions into a coherent album that comes off like Groove Armada doing David Byrne.
The NME review concluded: ‘Other People’s Lives’ has achieved a wonderful thing. It is both calm and collected, but wildly unhinged at its core, which bubbles away with insecurities and mysteries.”
The lad from Ladbroke Grove, NME’s Big Read cover star, proved there’s way more to UK rap than drill and this joyous debut bumps from booming hip-hop to garage via the grime that made him a star.
The NME review concluded: “As a document of British rap’s indefinable present – a snapshot of a time that’s seen UK rappers springboard from grime’s international explosion, and warp sonic expectations at every opportunity – AJ Tracey’s debut is perhaps the best of the current crop.”
Where the north London rapper’s last album, ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, was a dense concept album that required the listener’s conscious perseverance, this is a short and sharp collection of bangers that combines fantastic, punchy lyrics (“I’m a boss in a fucking dress!”) with golden-era hip-hop production.
The NME review concluded: “She’s crafted a knockout record – and finally come true on her early promise. This is the best rap record of the year so far.”
The lads from Oxford became a four-piece following the departure of bassist Walter Gervers, but that did nothing to deplete their rhythm section, as ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 1’ – the second instalment’s due later this year – is a funktastic rocker that manages to deepen the band’s sonic textures even as it makes you groove.
The NME review concluded: “It’s like ‘Antidotes’ with a protein shake, or ‘Total Life Forever’ on a pinger… . If this is just the first act of ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’, then this era may just prove to be Foals’ making.
This jazzy, elliptical record – songs offer up woozy snippets of melody and usually clock in at fewer than three minutes, and often much less – proved divisive, but there’s no doubt that ‘When I Get Home’, an ode to the singer’s hometown of Houston, is a singular statement from a rare talent.
The NME review concluded: “‘When I Get Home’ is a celebration. A celebration of females. A celebration of black culture. But mostly a celebration of music… This surprise album of 2019 was something we didn’t know we needed.”
Everyone knew was Dave – aka 20-year-old David Orobosa Omoregi – was in incredibly talented rapper, but few could have predicted that his debut album would be this good. A moving exploration of cultural identity, it also packs bags of attitude, juxtaposing moments of quiet introspection with blasts of ebullience.
The NME review concluded: “Possessing a boldness you only encounter in a handful of albums a year, the record’s greatest strength is his ability to garner quiet moments of pondering in among the loud and rage of the world… The lessons you learn with Dave are sure to live long in the memory.”
The Australian’s debut album is a marvellous thing. Building on her only EP to date, ‘Thrush Metal’, she employs a full-band to beef up the recordings, but holds onto the wickedly funny and emotionally provocative songwriting that made her name.
The NME review concluded: “Enthralling and hugely relevant, the Australian singer-songwriter’s debut album tackles difficult subject matter with cheekiness and real lightness of touch”
The Gen Z star came good on the unbelievable amount of hype with her twisted debut album. Blending dark trap beats with even bleaker lyrical turns, the 17-year-old made her mark on the global scene and left the rest in her wake.
The NME review concluded: “‘When We All Fall Asleep…’ is a memorable and game-changing debut record, with Billie’s disruptive streak front and centre. We’ll no doubt see the mainstream scrabbling to replicate it.”
An album 15-years in the making, Sam Swinson, aka Ohtis, details his battle with addiction in devastating fashion, but the album’s redemption narrative of his recovery period makes it one to treasure – not often does music get more honest than this.
The NME review concluded: “This darkly delicious alt-country album tackles addiction and regret with breathtaking clarity. The result is extraordinary and life-affirming.
Punchy lyrics, soaring guitars and anthems for a new generation, the Dublin punks turned in a raucous debut album that saw the wit and passion from early singles filtered through a more polished filter.
The NME review concluded: “The Irish troubadours come good on a debut album that offers both a storyteller’s narrative voice and a snarling new vision of youthful disillusionment.”
Natalie Mering’s fourth album is simply wonderful. Partly inspired by climate change, the US musician makes her most enjoyable and accessible album yet, pairing soft-rock ballads with electro-tinged moments of weighty reflection.
The NME review concluded: “The Summer of Love ended in bloodshed and, on her fourth album, it’s as though Natalie Mering is looking back at the seemingly idyllic era through a smeared prism.”
After almost six years away and minus a member (multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij), Ezra Koenig ropes in collaborators in the shape of Danielle Haim, Steve Lacy and more for a experimental and delightful listen.
The NME review concluded: “The first album in nearly six-years is a key reinvention for the indie stalwarts, with a looseness and funkiness that proves, thankfully, they’ve not over thought the comeback.”
The rapper’s seventh mixtape, and first collaborative with producer Kenny Beats, is her most consistent and enjoyable yet: the arrival of a cult figure into the mainstream.
The NME review concluded: “This bracing, addictive record takes the listener on a journey through anger to acceptance, finally arriving at a sense of calm. It’s a great concept, and a great album.”
Spirituality and the everyday mingle on Kevin Morby’s spectacular fifth album, ‘Oh My God’. Musically, it’s his most expansive outing yet but lyrically, he keeps things honest and true, often with devastating and enlightening results.
The NME review concluded: “The American songwriter questions it all on his divine fifth album, a remarkable achievement that may serve as a companion and guide in tough times.”
The Northampton provocateur pushed all the right buttons with his blistering debut album, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, during which he calls The Queen a “cunt” on the opening song. Some start, eh?
The NME review concluded: “The Northampton rapper’s unique debut album is authentic and honest in all its garish glory, an indication of the sprawling possible paths for his career to grow into.”
Melbourne’s most feral punks filed a sub 30-minute album which is stickier than a grotty pub carpet, but carries the whiff of danger that made them such an exciting prospect to start with.
The NME review concluded: “It’s “pub-punk” for now, but there’s a good chance it’ll take them to much bigger stages sooner rather than later. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s a bloody hoot.”
Dropped largely out of the blue, it’s Tyler’s production masterpiece, rejecting the orange hue of 2017’s ‘Flower Boy and opting for bold beats and striking vocals for a far punchier affair.
The NME review concluded: “Whether or not you choose to take his advice with either your first or your 51st listen, ‘IGOR’ is an accomplished and evergreen record that’s well worth putting your phone down, turning the TV off and devoting your full attention span to.”