The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

The final year of this benighted decade we’ve been sometimes compelled to call ‘The Teens’, 2019 has been a strange one for music. As seems traditional now, many bemoan the lack of quality albums that have been released this year – or, at least, what some critics would regard as a lack of lasting classics, those that will still be regarded as great ten years later. However, we respectfully disagree with this. 2019 has seen our longlist of albums to which we’ve awarded 7/10 or more at its biggest size ever, and nearly 150 albums were therefore eligible for our annual Top 50 Albums of the Year list. Our current and former staff narrowed this down to the final list, which you can see below, and there are some big names who’ve missed out.

As such, we offer apologies to the likes of Foals, Danny Brown, Girl Band, Chastity Belt, Kevin Morby, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, The Japanese House and Mercury Prize winner Dave, all of whom made fantastic albums but didn’t make our collated staff Top 50 list of 2019. Even Sharon Van Etten’s universally praised Remind Me Tomorrowcouldn’t make it!

Without further ado, here’s The Student Playlist’s Top 50 Albums of 2019!

50. Pixx – Small Mercies (4AD)

Pixx Small Mercies

Following her head-turning debut The Age Of Anxiety a couple of years back, BRIT school graduate Hannah Rodgers blossomed as a writer and claims an identity and sound of her own with her second Pixx album. Veering between distorted, dark hip-hop-influenced stylings and soaring synth-pop and with narratives covering everything from existentialism to Mary Magdalene picking her nose, Small Mercies was another step forward in a highly promising career. (Ed Biggs) (LISTEN)

49. Metronomy – Metronomy Forever (Because)

Metronomy Forever

When it comes to musicianship, self-indulgence is rarely applauded. People don’t often love to listen to unnecessary bloops without reason, yet Metronomy’s Joseph Mount manages to walk this fine line and succeed in writing yet another memorable record. Metronomy Forever, the band’s sixth, is one that excels in song curation yet has an air of the aforementioned indulgence in one’s virtuosity. It can be argued whether the long instrumentals or even the track amount are justified, but one must conclude that Metronomy Forever is entirely enjoyable, minus a couple of caveats, and when one keeps in mind that it’s purposefully lengthy and stylistically varied to comment on today’s playlist culture, it feels a bit more appropriate and justified. Full of indie dancefloor ‘bangers’ as well as creatively constructed instrumentals that impressively carry their weight on the record, reminiscent of Mount’s earliest work, it’s an album that ponders legacy and image, time, and modern masculinity. Almost conceptual in its themes, Metronomy Forever is lengthy but worth it, a true grower, proving that Mount has still ‘got it’. (Aiste Samuchovaite) (LISTEN)

48. Snapped Ankles – Stunning Luxury (The Leaf Label)

The sophomore album release by the London-based group, Stunning Luxury sees Snapped Ankles dive further into sonic chaos and drive their musical style forward. Harder hitting and more eclectic than their 2017 debut Come Play The Trees, they pushed their post-punk sound deeper into electronic territory, creating great contrasting textures on tracks like ‘Rechargeable’, and using electronic sound embellishment to its full potential. (Jacob Kendrew) (LISTEN)

47. Loyle Carner – Not Waving, But Drowning (AMF / Virgin EMI)

Following the release of his warmly received debut in 2017, Loyle Carner kept a firm hand on the tiller with Not Waving, But Drowning. His signature, basic old-school sound is what separates him from others in the modern rap world, marking him out as one of the most intelligent and empathetic voices in British hip-hop today. From his heartfelt lyrics about his family and childhood to the beautiful jazz instrumentation, Loyle Carner continued to shine brightly with this sophomore release. (Adam Collings) (LISTEN)

46. Pip Blom – Boat (Heavenly)

The 2010s has been a decade in which guitar music’s health hasn’t been that robust, but Dutch siblings Pip and Tender Blom showed with their band’s debut album Boat that originality and variety could still be wrought from the genre. With serene, dreamy soundscapes (‘Ruby’, ‘Bedhead’) rubbing up against heavier, more chaotic moments like ‘Aha’ and ‘Set Of Stairs’, Pip Blom delivered something instantly captivating. (EB) (LISTEN)

45. Yak – Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness (Virgin EMI / Universal)

A tunnel vision of madness, obsession and striving to get what you want, Momentary Pursuit Of Happiness is a scream into the void. When making this record, singer/guitarist Oliver Burslem slung himself into the abyss without self-care or financial security, and did not come back out until this fuzzy-funk masterpiece was finished. Desperation and determination are two words that motivated, and which also perfectly sum up, this humble yet spirited album. (Rebecca Corbett) (LISTEN)

44. Julia Jacklin – Crushing (Transgressive / P.I.A.S.)

The album is named aptly – the way Julia Jacklin uses simple, descriptive sentences to narrate heartbreak is truly crushing. With little pretension, her lyrics don’t aim to be shiny or genius, they’re simply fitting, being one of the reasons why Crushing is an album on familiar matters but in novel form. The indie scene is crammed with breakup albums, but Jacklin manages to stand out, as her musicianship and acute sense for songwriting results in catchy yet intricate melodies that follow, support and fulfil the words. By being as particular as possible rather than trying to sound universally relatable, Jacklin hits the nail on the head. The dissolution of romanticised, self-constructed ideals about one’s partner, the struggle to keep loving one when their flaws are all too familiar, the fight for one’s bodily autonomy in the digitised world of instant photograph. Crushing is full of that relatable, pitiful vulnerability most have experienced after breakups, where pleading a one-night stand to profess their untrue love for you is an action that feels both disgustingly right and needed. By digging into these very particular, yet shared nuances of love and excavating them, Julia Jacklin managed to write an indie rock record that doesn’t feel stale or biting with pretence, and if that’s not impressive in our age of retromania and irony, I don’t know what is. (AS) (LISTEN)

43. Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka (Polydor)

Michael Kiwanuka

After achieving no small amount of critical and commercial success with his first two records, Michael Kiwanuka went above and beyond for his third, and self-titled, album. With a bold sound and even bolder lyrics which are reminiscent of the ‘70s funk and psychedelic rock era, many songs on Kiwanuka will be remembered as his greatest like ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ and ‘Piano Joint’, but it is ‘Hero’ that is Michael’s masterpiece and the showstopper. (Aryan Agarwal) (LISTEN)

42. FKA twigs – Magdalene (Young Turks)

FKA twigs Magdalene

A celebration of the self, femininity and overcoming challenges and setbacks both physical and emotional, Magdalene saw Tahliah Debrett Barnett return to music with a wider breadth of introspection and softer, more experimental soundscapes surrounding her psyche as FKA twigs. Daring yet fragile, the emotional DNA of this album immerses the listener in the trials and tribulations that Barnett has endured over the past five years. (Daniel Antunes) (LISTEN)

41. Holly Herndon – Proto (4AD)

Holly Herndon Proto

On Proto, a brilliantly conceived collaborative effort embracing human performers and AI software, Holly Herndon continued delving deeper in her highly researched and process-heavy technological concepts, without necessarily losing any of her more accessible aesthetic sensibilities that we saw on previous efforts. Tracks like ‘Godmother’, made with footwork pioneer Jlin, meshed her avant-garde tendencies with her innate pop sensibilities into a coherent, presentable project of futuristic AI commentary. (EB) (LISTEN)

40. Blanck Mass – Animated Violence Mild (Sacred Bones)

Blanck Mass Animated Violence Mild

The fourth solo album from Benjamin John Power, the producer who first came to prominence as one half of British electronic duo Fuck Buttons, operating at a newfound level of brutality. His 2017 release as Blanck Mass, World Eater, had hinted at the juxtapositions of sugary pop with industrial noise that define this album, but Animated Violence Mild pushed those ideas to the next level. Programmed blast beats and black metal-style vocals came packaged along with melodic hooks and glossy production, evoking an explosive and often overwhelming sense of apocalyptic doom. (Brendan Nagle) (LISTEN)

39. Thom Yorke – Anima (Unsustainabubble / XL)

Thom Yorke ANIMA

As beloved as The Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes were, Thom Yorke’s third solo album Anima was the first time that the esteemed singer had fully expressed his identity outside of the context of Radiohead. Dystopian themes and existential dread were par for the course, also present throughout the short Netflix film of the same name, but the twitchy, economical soundscapes of electronica were emotionally charged and richly rewarding. (EB) (LISTEN)

38. The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery (Impulse! / UMG)

There’s nobody in jazz releasing eclectic and exciting music at such a rate as Shabaka Hutchings. Trust In The Lifeforce… is a wonderfully challenging yet rewarding album: from the elongated opening of ‘Because The End Really Is The Beginning’, the record ushers in warm textures which leave the listener enthralled throughout. This is most apparent when the album kicks into top gear on ‘Summon The Fire’, a track which is as frenetic as it is fascinating. Elsewhere on the record, Kate Tempest delivers a stunning spoken-word monologue during ‘Blood Of The Past’, a magnificent moment as the monologue tackles issues of today as the instrumentation swirls into mania. For all the rhetoric about jazz’s death, it’s albums like Trust In The Lifeforce… that show the genre is in as good a place as it has been in decades. (John Tindale) (LISTEN)

37. Kim Gordon – No Home Record (Matador)

Important musical statements about the general state of the world aren’t exactly in short supply in 2019, but few have made those statements with as much panache as Kim Gordon. Created with the help of avant-garde songwriter/producer/general hired hand Justin Raisen, arguably her finest creative partner since Sonic Youth split, No Home Record not only drips with sardonic wit and caustic energy, but stands as one of the most broadly accessible collections in her long career. (EB) (LISTEN)

36. Sundara Karma – Ulfilas’ Alphabet (RCA)

One of the great white hopes for British guitar music when their debut album appeared at the start of 2017, Sundara Karma went in a different direction for their second studio album. In Ulfilas’ Alphabet, the group build on their solidly indie-rock roots yet sought to quietly defy them at the same time, with the band incorporating many elements of genres such as new wave and folk rock to create an album that is full of flavour with something new and unexpected at every turn. (David Allsop) (LISTEN)

35. The National – I Am Easy To Find (4AD)

The National I Am Easy To Find

With Matt Berninger sharing the spotlight with a rotating cast of female voices, ranging from Sharon Van Etten and This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables to former Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey, I Am Easy To Find represented the most thematically ambitious album from The National to date, as well as sonically diverse. As a result, Berninger’s monologues became more conversational, and on the likes of the heart-rending ‘Not In Kansas’ to the jittery, scrambled electronics of ‘You Had Your Soul With You’, the band leaned into the intellectual side of their natures, pushing their artistry further than ever before. (EB) (LISTEN)

34. Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest (Drag City)

Bill Callahan Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest

“Ever seen a shepherd afraid to find his sheep?” crooned 53 year old Bill Callahan in his oaky baritone on his first solo album in half a decade, a time that’s seen him get married and become a father for the first time. Upon such quiet ruminations and reflections was this magnificently economical double album built – the former Smog man muses upon masculinity, its innate characteristics and the capacity to change, all set to lightly brushed drums and stripped-back acoustic arrangements. As if it needed to be proved again, few are as able to communicate the essence of life’s truths as Callahan. (EB) (LISTEN)

33. Brutus – Nest (Sargent House)

Having enjoyed the patronage of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, among others, at the start of their career, Belgian trio Brutus forged another spectacular album in the shape of Nest. Melding together black metal, post-hardcore and old-fashioned hard rock thrills, it ranged from astringent tracks like ‘Cemetery’ to spacier, even beautiful tracks like the twinkling ‘Techno’, tied together with Stefanie Mannaerts’ heartfelt vocals. (Harry Beynon) (LISTEN)

32. Sigrid – Sucker Punch (Island / Universal)

Sigrid Raabe’s youthful and genuine approach to music has stolen the hearts of many, even before the Norwegian singer released her highly anticipated debut album Sucker Punch. Over a full-length record, Sigrid proved to be a natural at writing melodic and heartfelt pop songs, yet not lacking the grit and candour that she showed on her earliest singles like ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’. Topping it all with angelic vocals influenced by Scandinavian airiness and elegance, Sigrid delivered a stellar debut album, making it an easy choice for one of our favourites of the year. (Alicja Rutkowska) (LISTEN)

31. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen Western Stars

The Boss’s best album in years was also a significant departure: stripped of rocking E-Street Band theatrics, Western Stars was instead a work of baroque Americana, a moving evocation of the sprawling western landscape that sounds unlike anything else in his catalogue. With its intricate narratives and complex characters, Springsteen’s music has always verged on the cinematic (for Born In The U.S.A. he commissioned music videos from esteemed directors like Brian DePalma and John Sayles), but here he brings cinema to the forefront. ‘Drive Fast’ is sung from the perspective of a battered old Hollywood stuntman; the title track concerns a washed-up cowboy actor reminiscing on the time he had the privilege to be shot by John Wayne onscreen. The lush orchestration makes a fine complement to this fixation, and Springsteen’s astonishingly warm vocal performance is the crucial piece that makes this wistful reflection resonate. (BN) (LISTEN)

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