Albums of the Year 2019 – Nathan Blackstone

So it’s time for my albums of the year. Between reviews and casual listening I listened to plenty this year which made picking just 10 tricky and ranking them impossible. So here, enjoy an un-ordered list of albums that I think were some of the best 2019 had to offer.

Queen ZeeSelf Titled

Queen Zee is dead, long live Queen Zee. It’s almost a year since I reviewed this one. I picked it because I thought it was a great name, completely oblivious to the ride this band would take me on. Here we are now, the ride ended as Queen Zee ended and I’m left with this album, a T- Shirt and a sense that this was quite important. 

Queen Zee’s album is a suckerpunch. It’s a charged, anthemic punk album. Tracks like Sissy Fists and Loner are just designed to be shouted from every seat in the venue. Tracks like Victim Age are unapologetic, in your face and absolutely spot on. The snarling vocals, pounding rhythm and loud guitars make for a song you can really scream. Lyrically, the album really builds the image of the mythical Queen Zee character, tracks like Porno and Hunger Pains particularly. It’s so hard to describe music at the best of times and when it’s an album like this it’s even harder. Why all these ingredients make for an album I can’t put down, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that this record has been on my mind since January and shows no sign of leaving. 

We can hope Queen Zee broke up in the same way that David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars or Creeper broke up. Until we know for sure why not listen to this album and see what you missed out on. 

CultdreamsThings That Hurt

If you’re not familiar with Cultdreams’ dreamy punk music you should probably fix that. The single Not My Generation was the first track from the album that I heard and I was absolutely roped in. That chorus crushes each and every time. Flowers on their Graves is another big one for me on the album. Unrelenting pace and swirling guitars with those story like verses. It’s definitely a standout track.

I haven’t loved an albums guitar sound this much since I discovered Siamese Dream as a teenager. Thick walls of fuzzy, hazy guitars coat every track. We Never Rest uses them to great effect with it’s long slow build and heavenly choruses. It’s one of the best crafted tracks I’ve heard all year and if you listen to anything from this list, listen to that track. Don’t Let Them Tell You Otherwise follows and it’s haunting. It’s lyrics and it’s hanging instrumental combine, the uplift towards the end and the haunting refrain “I’m getting help and I don’t want you all around” make for such a journey of a track. 

This record combines styles that I personally love with lyrics and messages that are so important. It only rings more true as time goes on and it’s one of the albums on this list that I really hope you, dear reader, go out and listen to. 

Pom PokoBirthday

These Norweigan Math Rockers were somewhat unknown to me until Orchards were announced as their support for a UK tour this Autumn. A friend told me he liked them so he’d go to the show too so I checked them out. I was right to trust his judgement on this one. The record itself is great but I truly fell in love with it again when I heard most of it live. 

The swirling Theme #1 opens into My Blood, a bounding song that probably has a lot of responsibility for the head-banging induced pain I suffered after their show. Follow The Lights is a wonderful track with it’s weird timings and monstrous guitar tones that all lead into a great little chorus. Title track Birthday is endlessly joyful, it’s chiming guitar harmonics and oh so wholesome chorus. If U Want Me To Stay was probably the final nail in my neck’s coffin, it’s a massive track that just doesn’t quit. 

If you like your indie rock lo-fi and your riffs mathy then this is the album for you. Their live show is also highly recommended. I can’t wait for whatever this band brings us next and for the next time they announce UK tour dates. 

King Nun– Mass

I remember seeing King Nun live two years ago now. It was a tiny venue, I was right up the front and it was incredibly. The energy this band has and their sound are incredible. Mass, their debut album dropped this year and it lived up to all expectations. In a year where mostly records outside rock caught my ear, Mass was one of the rock records that brought me back. The record features Chinese Medicine, a song I remember them playing back in 2017. It’s an absolutely killer track. That chorus is otherworldly good.

The rest of the record is all new and just as good. Mascara Runs opens the record and gives a look into the unique world that the band paints with a mixture of gritty instrumentals and vivid lyrics. For that matter, the lyric “Texas Chainsaw Mascara” from the later track Low Flying Dandelion remains one of my favourites of the year. Tracks like I Saw Blue and Cowboy combine the dancier stylings of bands such as The Killers and a healthy dose of more traditional, grungy indie rock to make some great tracks. Other tracks to mention are the moody Black Tree, the delightfully weird Sharing a Head With Seth and the jangling Bug with it’s soaring chorus.

Mass is a mighty impressive debut. King Nun truly offer something interesting and unique with this one. It’s production is a joy for me also, balancing the rough against the smooth which really grounds these songs in their dirty, off kilter world.

AURORA A Different Kind of Human – Step 2

I came to this album later in the year, playing it at the end of a long train journey with an early sunset in the distance. It felt like some kind of ascension. AURORA makes this ethereal pop music that’s just lush with atmosphere and layers and A Different Kind of Human is a perfect example of it. Opener River with it’s bubbling synths and sudden rushes of momentum is almost onomatopoeic. Animal follows, the first AURORA song I heard (accidentally while looking at random places on snapmaps) and it’s pop perfection wrapped in an interesting package. 

In a year that’s been less than joyous at times, an album like this one provides a much needed lift. Tracks like Hunger and Apple Tree are great pop tracks thrown sideways into trip hop and art pop. The tracks have a palpable ambience but you can sing along to every word. It’s a combination I absolutely love. The album has such a cohesive style and it’s got so much replay-ability. Tracks like Daydreamer were instant hits that just keep growing, it’s the sound of walking in a peaceful night. It’s almost anthemic. 

If you like your pop a little different then this record is certainly worth a listen. Play Animal once and you won’t be able to stop yourself from hitting repeat. 

IthacaThe Language of Injury

It wouldn’t be a list of mine if I didn’t sandwich a heavy album between some pop records. Throughout 2019 I’ve been asked, “what new heavy albums do you recommend?”. The Language of Injury has been my response every time. From the opening track, New Covenant, you can tell the band are bringing something different. Massive noisy guitars, superb screams and great dynamic flow make the track such a compelling listen. 

Secretspace is another great track with the band’s dynamic mastery in full view. The quiet breaks that let the song breathe are a large part of what makes it so heavy. Slow Negative Order with it’s church chorus like backing vocals is another great track. Winding riffs that crash into stuttered rhythm sections. Five minute closer, Better Abuse, starts out on a real moody riff. Soon noise joins the solitary guitar, forboding swells that signal the coming wall of guitars. It sounds like looking up at the tallest castle walls you can imagine. It only gets better as it goes but I’ll leave that surprise to you.

If you like heavy music listen to this one. If you don’t hear much heavy music that captures your imagination then especially try this one.

FKA TwigsMagdalene

Magdalene was a recommendation that I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. While I’m not necessarily familiar with FKA Twigs’ previous releases I followed the singles the lead up to the albums release and after them I had to check the record out. Cellophane is this wonderful piano ballad with sculpted sounds coming in and out. Home With You starts as a build and leads to a sweeping refrain with some of my favourite percussion on the record. 

The album has a great flow, staying true to its concept throughout.The track that really sold me on the album was Fallen Alien. It’s a glitchy, distorted track that sounds on the brink of collapse before opening into a sparse break. The pressure amps up again before the track snaps. The album is so beautifully produced and I focus on Fallen Alien as it’s the strongest example of this. It’s as unafraid of being discordant and noisy as it is of being sweeping and beautiful. It’s an album that feels like it’s years ahead of the rest of us and it’s just so interesting to listen to. Vocal samples and strange electronic sounds provide all the earcandy you could wish for. 

Magdalene is such a cohesive unit and such a journey. Get yourself 40 minutes of free time, stick this on and get lost in the world that FKA Twigs has created here. 

Gender Roles– PRANG

I’d checked out Gender Roles previous EPs years ago and absolutely loved them. Well crafted, jangling punk tunes with incredible hooks. I reviewed lead single and opener You Look Like Death and it’s still sounds just as fresh. It’s a classic bit of Gender Roles with tasty riffs and ever so chantable lyrics. The next track Always is just as good with all it’s snarl and power. 

Cuts like Hey With Two Whys exemplify why I’ll be reaching for this one again when summer comes back next year. Jangling, optimistic and full of bounce. The production on this record is perfect for the band, a little gritty with some awesome drum sounds and guitar tones you could search for years for. Bubble is another favourite of mine, the little lead riff that rings around throughout the track and it’s blistering choruses. This album is a great debut for the band, it’s got growth but it’s fundamentally still them.

If you like your punk music to be a little different with plenty of singalongs then PRANG is the album for you. It’s been stuck in my head all year, get it stuck in yours. 

FIDLARAlmost Free

I’ve been a fan of FIDLAR for a while, so when the opportunity came up to review this year I jumped at it. Much of what I said then still applies. I love the records fearless fusions of Beastie Boys, punk, 00s pop and more. It’s positivity has also become even more appreciated. Try not cracking a grin to By Myself’s refrain of “I’m cracking one open with the boys, by myself”. 

Alcohol still stands out to me. It’s one of the albums most visceral moments and that chorus hits at 11 every time. Get Off My Rock is the album’s unhinged opener that sets the tone so well with it’s chaos and steady rhythm. The other highlights of the album for me are some of the softer tracks. Called You Twice, featuring K.Flay who also dropped a solid release this year, is a brilliant, yearning little ballad. Thought. Mouth. is a large part of why I put 00s pop in that list earlier. It’s choruses are great nuggets of punk but those verses where they’re playing with this throwback sound, that’s a big part of the tracks magic for me. 

If you want something to sit in and party by yourself with, Almost Free is a good choice. It’s the next step in the bands evolution and only makes me more excited for whatever they put out next.

Frank Iero and the Future ViolentsBarriers

Common themes for this list are going to be train listens and getting incredibly lucky when it comes to the albums I managed to review. This album combines both, I remember putting it on as the train left the station a very short time after applying to review it. From the warm organ that introduces the album’s opener A New Day Is Coming I knew Frank had put together something pretty special. 

Young and Doomed remains one of my go to rock tracks from this year. Steve Albini’s raw sound perfectly compliments the track Frank and the gang put together. Basement Eyes is a tidal wave of tone and emotion when it breaks, Moto Pop is a guitar fueled power piece and there’s so many other tracks worth mentioning. I’ll turn again to the albums closer, 24k Lush. Frank’s foray into shoegaze with this track is highly successful. It’s one of my favourite tracks of the year, let that be known. The wall of whirling, fuzzy guitars that pushes the choruses on track moves you, as does the song they support. Knowing now that My Chemical Romance are set to return (yet to play their reunion show as of writing) I hope we’re still set for a fourth Frank record at some point.

Nathan Blackstone

December 29, 2019

I'm Nathan, I'm based in South East England and I'm a huge music fan. When I'm not making music of my own I'm listening to a wide variety of music from Pop to Rock to Metal and beyond. My top three bands would have to be the Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo and My Chemical Romance although there are so many other great bands but so little time to list them!


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