Music

Set The Tape’s Favourite Albums 2019

2018 was one of my favourite years for music ever, so the competition was tough out of the gate. I don’t know what was in the water, but it certainly seemed to me that everyone was producing the most vibrant, turned-up-to-ten stuff of their careers, regardless of how long that was. It was a year that would swell with defining-moment releases for a lot of catalogues, as well as for the decade so far (steady… it’s on it’s way). Releases such as IDLES’ Joy As An Act of Resistance and Snail Mail’s Lush were establishing for the up and coming artists of the new generation, whereas full-lengths like Jack White’s Boarding House Reach and the surprise Kanye/Cudi project Kids See Ghosts proved there was life in the old guard yet. It was going to be hard to top, but 2019 stepped up to the challenge, and came through with some undeniable contenders and overall mind-blowing projects at every available turn. Let’s meet the field!


#10. The Menzingers – Hello Exile

There are a lot of artists who were popular in the rock scene of the mid-to-late 2000s, who, I’m sad to say, by this point are totally phoning it in. Hello Exile while recognisable, manages to escape that criticism.

I mean, sure, it’s a Menzingers record that sounds like one, but it’s definitely doing enough to keep interest, and personally I like it better than their previous (also fantastic) effort, After the Party. Second track ‘Anna’ is an excellent jumping-off point for the uninitiated, bringing through the signature style of hook-heavy pop-rock combined with some tidy narrative storytelling… while the self-examining ‘Farewell Youth’ is sure to satiate the masochistic fans that have historically come to the Menzingers for their brand of heart-wrenchers.


#9 American Football – Self Titled 3

Mike Kinsella’s decision to revive American Football after a fifteen year break has proved time and again since to have been the right move.

2016’s LP2 managed to walk the fine line of sounding like they’d never been away whilst also managing to give their jangly emo stylings a lick of paint. LP3 is another feather in the cap, and another step down that road of discovery, inching ever-closer to what a perfect American Football album in the modern era might sound like.

Isn’t it insane to think that a band whose first go-around was 20 years ago’s best stuff might actually be ahead of them? Call me optimistic, but I’m staying tuned. ‘Heir Apparent’, for instance, is as sonically contemporary as anything Mac DeMarco, Boy Pablo or the usual suspects of the current scene are up to… so we’ll see.

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#8 Better Oblivion Community Center – Self Titled

Better Oblivion Community Center’s inclusion in this list, however valid, proves that 2019 has been a half-decade long at minimum. Just me? Well, alright.

The Conor Oberst/Phoebe Bridgers collaborative effort landed in our laps with zero fanfare leading up, although – I think it’s safe to say – has since received it’s fair share. The songwriting powerhouse of Bright Eyes (and a million other projects) combined with the multitude of talents Bridgers possesses makes for a joy of a listen; never feeling pastiche despite walking in territory both are acquainted with.

It’s such a magnificently neat record: succinct if that’s all you want on the ear right now, but with so much room underneath to explore the various themes, meanings and references lurking. Also, ‘Dylan Thomas’ is still the pop song of the year, fight me.


#7 Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin¿

Danny Brown in my top 10. Ain’t it funny how it happens? Sorry, wrong album.

On the topic though, uknowwhatimsayin¿ is a work every bit as good as previous full-length Atrocity Exhibition and that is a ridiculous statement, frankly.

Danny’s back to business, blending the raw and real with the deliriously cartoonish in the mind-bending way only he get away with.

The production is head-boppingly crisp, the track concepts fresh and exciting, and the features expertly picked (both of Run the Jewels’ verses on ‘3 Tearz’ spring to mind… I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing those boys very soon).


#6 Marika Hackman – any human friend

When I first heard opener ‘wanderlust’, I was instantly all in. I’d have been fine with a whole record in that same alluring tone; contemplative, lo-fi, stripped almost bare.

The rest of any human friend is categorically not-that… instead so teeming with presentation ideas and transporting influence that its 40-minute duration passes in a flash.

Compare the aforementioned with fuzzy and frenetic single ‘hand solo’ and the titular triumph seeing us out, to gauge exactly how much imagination is sandwiched in here… everything is an island of its own.

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#5 Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood has to her name a staggeringly gorgeous vocal. Her debut, April’s Titanic Rising is a bastion of ambition, dealing with an array of topics veteran songwriters would struggle to articulate an angle on.

Walking from one to the other without any sign of trepidation, Natalie’s emerging style has yet to find border or boundary and I absolutely adore her need to push out.

Stand-outs ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Movies’ tangle in the throes of love, albeit at total opposite ends of things; the former vividly describing the anaesthetising effect of post-breakup blues, and the latter serving up an ode to the unblemished perfection of silver screen romance.

She’s a refreshing voice in an ever-saturated talent pool, and stood out to me so far beyond many with this bold and beguiling first-at-bat. Definitely interested in whatever comes next.


#4 slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain

Is there anyone on planet Earth I want to succeed more right now than slowthai? Genuinely don’t think so.

Showing up out of nowhere and completely taking over in the most on-brand way possible, the Northampton native dropped Nothing Great About Britain in May and it’s been bouncing around my brain like a space-hopper ever since.

Within there’s a strange familiarity, and not just in some of the more Mike Skinner-esque delivery; this is pretty much a concept piece of observations, one that holds a mirror up to the less-romanticised details of ol’ Blighty in an effort to name, shame and/or change.

slowthai blends the urgency of punk with garage, conventional hip hop methodology and so much more in this phenomenal, character-defining debut. Play it loud.


#3 Tyler, the Creator – Igor

I did my write-up on Tyler, the Creator’s Igor in the mid-year list and it’s a record that’s only appreciated in value from that point on.

On repeat listens cover-to-cover, I actually think my relationship with this thing has shifted multiple times. The first time was disorienting, naturally; the sonics on display are such a wild yet specifically selected bunch that you (almost) forget that this is the very same Tyler that used to jump around the stage in tube socks screaming bloody murder at edgy teen skaters.

The next time around, I was able to take in more of what’s going on thematically, to draw comparisons to 2017’s Flower Boy, and seriously mark the curve of progression in his still-young career. The third time to present day? Fully able to bear witness to one of the most deliberate records in recent memory.

Igor is a showcase of passion; everything it attempts it gives its entire heart to, and with extraordinary results. A lot of you already know about this album. If you’ve stumbled across this list and by some chance you don’t… change that immediately.

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#2 Big Thief – Two Hands

Oh, Big Thief. Narrowly avoiding making this list twice (see honourable mentions below) this year, Adrienne Lenker and friends have achieved so much in such a short time… it’s terrifying.

Fourth outing Two Hands is their greatest work thus far, presenting the full strength of the bands’ parts in glorious motion. Lenker in an interview has described this set of songs as those she’s most proud of; those she can see herself singing into old age, and upon first encountering the beautiful simplicity of this record it’s incredibly easy to gauge why.

Channelling traditional folk tales, re-imagined and polished for the ears of the modern indie-rock faithful, Two Hands is a glorious journey through plaintive findings on the human experience, with woe and wonderment in spades. I gushed about this album enough in my review, I won’t go on.


#1 Swans – Leaving Meaning

It’s so hard not to talk about the entire Swans renaissance whenever the band come up. Leaving Meaning is another stellar addition to one of the wildest bodies of work any band possesses… and in my eyes, a very natural landing point for their work this past decade.

Michael Gira and co. are just as vicious, as outlandishly creative, and as emotion-evoking as they’ve been since The Seer and To Be Kind floored critics. A case study for beyond impressive consistency… Swans might well be the most interesting rock band currently making anything.

I am, however, MORE than aware that their work is not for the faint of heart, so if any of this sounds good to you, maybe start with the superbly haunting single ‘It’s Coming, It’s Real’ and see how you feel. My god, though, if that’s your bag… jump in. Start with Leaving Meaning, then deep-dive everything else. You will not be disappointed.


Honourable Mentions

#5 Fontaines D.C – Dogrel
You should try: ‘Boys in the Better Land’

#4 Big Thief – U.F.O.F
You should try: ‘Cattails’

#3 Denzel Curry – ZUU
You should try: ‘SPEEDBOAT’

#2 The Japanese House – Good At Falling
You should try: ‘You Seemed So Happy’

#1 Anderson .Paak – Ventura
You should try: ‘Come Home’

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