Now we’re officially past the halfway part of the year, Music Week has decided to look back at some of the best albums of 2019 so far. If one thing soon becomes clear, it’s that it’s already been a belter, with critically-acclaimed releases from the likes of Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Mark Ronson, Bring Me The Horizon, AJ Tracey, Maren Morris and many more.
Here, Music Week’s staff weighs in on their own personal highlight…
WESTERN STARS (COLUMBIA)
Obligatory shout outs first: Biffy Clyro, Sigrid, Defeater, Solange, Ariana Grande, Maren Morris, Employed To Serve and Carly Rae Jepsen have all made excellent albums this year. Still, the one record I can’t stop returning to is Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen. But who needs me to harp on about it? The striking quality of Hitch Hikin’, Chasin’ Wild Horses and There Goes My Miracle are self-evident. Note to self: book road trip soon.
GEORGE GARNER (DEPUTY EDITOR)
IGNORANCE IS BLISS (BOY BETTER KNOW)
The bleeps and notes of warped bass that introduce Bullet From A Gun, the lead single and opening track on Skepta’s fifth album set the tone for 13 songs that drill into the Tottenham MC’s soul. Ignorance Is Bliss isn’t showy, there’s no compromise on heaviness or experimentation to chase sales, this is simply a hard-edged, revelatory trip into Skepta’s mind. Greaze Mode is a weed-addled party song, Gangsta unfolds into a lairy dance track, but most of what’s here holds up a mirror to the insecurities that come with being the MC that has given a generation of British rappers the chance to go worldwide. Going Through It, Same Old Story, Animal Instinct and Glow In The Dark are cold and candid, and Skepta’s demeanour during the campaign so far suggests a musician at the very top, determined to soak in every moment. And all that without mentioning the features, led by J Hus, whose vocals elevate What Do You Mean? high into the skies. Elsewhere, a cast including Nafe Smallz, Lancey Foux and Wizkid shows breadth, not to mention the sheer quality of Skepta’s ear. Other MCs might have done better numbers in 2019, but let them. Skepta’s supremacy feels unshakeable, and this album of bangers made over months of studio isolation documents a fascinating stage in his career.
BEN HOMEWOOD (SENIOR STAFF WRITER)
JADE BIRD (GLASSNOTE)
After last year’s almost-barren 12 months for British artist breakthroughs, 2019 is already way ahead of the curve. Lewis Capaldi, Dave and Tom Walker have delivered huge commercial breakthroughs and, if there’s any justice in this world, Jade Bird will join them before the year is out. True, she’s a more alternative proposition, bringing some genuine punky grit to her songs of teenage angst, which may be why America has embraced her rather more swiftly than her home country. But, unlike many of the current wave of singer-songwriters, she can do angry (Uh Huh, I Get No Joy) every bit as convincingly as she can do sad (17), and combines both with irresistible tunes and the sort of lyrics that will be clutched to broken hearts everywhere. Her flight to stardom might take a little longer than some but this superb debut deserves to move her right up the, er, pecking order.
MARK SUTHERLAND (EDITOR)
SHARON VAN ETTEN
REMIND ME TOMORROW (JAGJAGUWAR)
Perhaps mindful of getting stuck in an indie rock rut, Sharon Van Etten changed things up for her fifth album. On her first record in five years, she’s out of her comfort zone and experimenting with droning electronics. Yet Remind Me Tomorrow also has some of her best tunes. Comeback Kid is an insouciant synth-pop anthem, while Seventeen has the Springsteen-style swagger that you may be missing on the majestic new album by The Boss. Van Etten’s latest songs have fired up her live shows – check out the BBC coverage of her indomitable Glastonbury performance on the John Peel stage (the great man would surely have approved).
ANDRE PAINE (NEWS EDITOR)
LATE NIGHT FEELINGS (RCA)
Everything Mark Ronson touches seems to turn to gold (or platinum), and Late Night Feelings should be no exception. His first LP since 2015's Uptown Special, brooding lead single Nothing Breaks Like A Heart served the double purpose of reintroducing Ronson to the masses and giving featured vocalist Miley Cyrus a long overdue UK hit. The disco-infused title track, meanwhile, sparkles like a glitterball, illuminated by Lykke Li's mesmeric vocals,and Camila Cabello shines on the dreamy electronica of Find U Again. Only Ed Sheeran can rival the DJ's contacts book. Is there another Uptown Funk monster smash on there? Possibly not. But every song sounds like it could be a single, and probably will be. Besides, someone already chose Springsteen...
JAMES HANLEY (SENIOR STAFF WRITER)