Deciding on a ‘best of the year’ in any sense is somewhat arbitrary. It’s probably safe to do so when talking about experiences, such as Gigs of the Year, but albums can be particularly tricky. One may not hear an album when it first comes out, only for it to become a favourite months or even years down the line. Or albums may simply take time to grow on us. I didn’t include Suede’s The Blue Hour in my 2018 list, but after another year of listening to it I think it is a masterpiece. So with that in mind, here are simply 10 great albums from 2019 that I recommend. Please do send me yours.
Brutus – Nest
An early belter from last year, Brutus came roaring out of the traps with this offering in February. It ranges from the infectious aggression of Cemetery, to the ethereal and gorgeously reverberant Space, to the epic conclusion Sugar Dragon. A superb follow up to their debut Burst – aptly titled as they remain one of the most exciting new bands to do so onto the scene in recent years.
Greet Death – New Hell
While the cover and title makes this offering look like something cooked up with twisted glee in the grindcore kitchen, what’s inside is a far more mellow and sombre affair. What struck me most about this hefty slice of shoegaze was its guitar tones, lending the whole record a feeling of warmth and comfort, akin to early Pumpkins. Seriously, feeling cold? Give this a spin; guaranteed to warm your cockles.
Fontaines DC – Dogrel
Lyrically, probably my favourite of the year. This post punk offering from Dublin’s finest is littered with absolute gems such as “a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel”, “An idiot is someone who lets their education do all of their thinking”, and “spits out ‘Brits out’ and only smokes Carroll’s” . The whole album is one delightful turn of phrase after another. A debut that is part LP and part statement of intent. Certainly the best album from this island in the last year.
Torche – Admission
Torche crank up the volume again with a relentless barrage of Helmet-sized riffs, numbers that will burrow their way into your brain and bludgeon to death any irritating earworms they find in there. The last time Torche were in Ireland they clashed with something else (such gig clashes are frequent, I’ve had one already this year, despite January being quiet). I’ll be sure not to miss them next time round.
Baroness – Gold and Grey
John Baizley and co continue to evolve and astound, with their latest release seemingly involving every guitar pedal configuration under the sun. The balance of heaviness and melody they have produced throughout their stunning run of albums still remains, but with evermore layers of lush instrumentation elevating their output to dizzying heights. Baizley’s battered Telecaster* has never sounded so epic.
The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men
The greatest of the Britrock bands, The Wildhearts, have returned with their first album in a decade, and their first featuring the classic 90s lineup since, well, the 90s. Despite being the most disfunctional and at times shambolic of bands, it’s great seeing them all back on the same page again. And great to see bassist Danny McCormack back on his feet (literally, he lost a leg a few years ago). It really is as triumphant as its apt title suggests, as Renaissance Men features riffs as inventive and choruses as catchy as anything from Ginger’s vast back-catalogue (not to disparage the rest of the band, but he does write all the melodies). One listen to Let Em Go and you’ll be humming it for the rest of the week, while My Side of the Bed rails against recent surges in racism and discrimination in Britain, and against the poisonous Daily Mail. Back with a resounding bang.
The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears
A second Dublin band on the list highlighting a strong year for Irish post-punk, The Murder Capital debut hearkens back to 80s new wave, tinged with influences from 90s Ireland. Despite evoking memories of bands such as Whipping Boy and Scheer, When I Have Fears has its own distinctive voice, and frequently sounds like a love letter to their influences. It’s at the same time nostalgic and fresh, and sounding like another band destined for great things.
Have a Nice Life – Sea of Worry
The third album from a band who only came to my attention in recent months. This twisting and turning sprawling adventure through goth and shoegaze brims with inventive chord progressions and time signatures, and wears its influences on its sleeve. There is much more to this than a fuzz-filled tribute to Bauhaus and Joy Division however, as the brooding lyrics explore 21st century anxiety and religion. Closing track Destino features a lengthy discourse on the nature of Hell and sin. I have no idea of the band’s religious affiliation, but I read this as a satire on the ridiculousness of Christianity. An absurd and thought-provoking end to an absurdly inventive LP.
Norma Jean – All Hail
Speaking of religion, Norma Jean have followed up my 2016 album-of-the-year Polar Similar with another ferocious tour-de-force. All Hail makes a great companion piece to its predecessor, as while I am a big fan of their back catalogue as a whole, I think they have really refined and perfected their sound on these last two records. It still amuses me that these lads often find themselves top of the US Christian charts (in fact it amuses me that such charts even exist), with their relentless hardcore aggression shouldering aside saccharine songs about, I don’t know, Jesus healing rich white people or something. Despite being outspoken about their religion, none of that nonsense comes across in Norma Jean’s music, so enjoy it for its full-on vocal and riff-laden onslaught instead.
Refused – War Music
A record that I thought might never exist. Following their break-up short after releasing one of my desert island discs, The Shape of Punk to Come, Refused seemingly would never reform, drained by the frustrations of touring and fed up with the machinations of the music industry. But after almost 17 years, they returned with new found vigour and a more polished and groove-filled sound in the form of Freedom, and its follow-up War Music takes the template of the former to newer heights. Opener Rev 001 tears you from your seat, and the rest of the album boasts anthem after post-hardcore anthem, leaving no pause for breath for its entire duration. As angry as ever, as melodic as ever. It’s been great to have Refused back.
If you hear this you’re a weapon.
Thanks as always for reading. Do share your own recommendations. In terms of new music, I am an insatiable one.