Slacker Shack’s Top Ten Albums of 2019

2019 MUSIC

It’s another ‘music for all moods’ kind of year, and a dazzling one at that. I’ve only seen a few end of year album lists but those I’ve seen seem to be dominated by the likes of Bon Iver, Michael Kiwankuka, Black Midi, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Big Thief, Lana Del Ray, FKA Twigs, Billie Eilish, Tyler the Creator, Vampire Weekend, Lizzo and Fontaines D.C. Only one of those albums make Slacker Shack’s Top Ten list but two or three others came close.

As the list above hints at, 2019 was another really eclectic year for music. Our list leaps across genres like folk, psych rock, nu-soul, post punk, hip hop and art rock without pausing for breath, and a number of outstanding albums blew our minds but didn’t quite make it in.

Hip hop albums by Danny Brown, Little Simz and Slowthai sucked in a kaleidoscopic mélange of eclectic beats and hooks, and captured the multifaceted soundscape of modern day rap without mumbling or auto-tuning every verse and chorus. But it was Denzel Curry’s ZUU that really opened my eyes to a rapper at the absolute top of his game. It seems to perfectly balance the tightrope between classic old school hip hop and progressive nu-skool stuff and Denzel’s our rapper of the year.

There were a few minor let downs like the two King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard albums, Fishing For Fishes and Infest The Rat’s Nest. The former had some bluesy stonkers and the odd moment of trippy brilliance but the latter’s one note thrash-a-thon left me drained. I have to admit Bon Iver’s latest LP, i,i didn’t really connect with me either. I fell in love with the track, Naeem but I found the rest of the album overly polished and forced. The vague idea to amalgamate their three previous albums’ sounds and themes and present i,i as the conclusion to a quadrilogy embracing each of nature’s seasons just seemed over thought, like a team of designers and marketers were now part of the whole creative process.

Other quirky also-rans that soundtracked our blog this year include Liverpool’s Avalanches and DAISY age influenced party starters, Chinatown Slalom, the psych-jazz bombast of The Comet Is Coming and the gently hypnotic beauty of Rozi Plain, US indie rockers, Crumb and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds haunting Ghosteen. Other worthy shout outs go to Meatraffle, White Denim, The Mystery Lights, Pye Audio Corner, Sharon Van Etten, Deerhunter, The Chemical Brothers and Slacker Shack icon, Stephen Malkmus‘ 80’s synth excursion, Groove Denied.

There were some great psych influenced albums that tripped and tickled their way all over our Spotify playlists like Avey Tare and Clinic’s long players, and in particular Vanishing Twin’s enchanting, The Age Of Immunology, Big Thief’s heavenly surreal, U.F.O.F. and Cate Le Bon’s angular and eccentric, Reward. The latter three all made our hallowed Top Ten.

So, Big Thief, Cate Le Bon and Vanishing Twin aside, who else makes our Top Ten? There are a couple of reliable Slacker Shack favourites in the form of Bill Callahan and DJ Shadow (now there’s a musical juxtaposition). The former’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest album dripped charisma and gravitas, laying expansive song-writing alongside introspective lyrical brilliance. DJ Shadow’s mammoth double album, Our Pathetic Age served up one side of retro-futuristic sci-fi soundscapes and trickery alongside a second side of blazing hip-hop. I absolutely loved its split personality approach and can’t stop playing and bobbing my head along to it.

Flying Lotus’s new LP, Flamagra was another mighty affair clocking in at the 67 minute mark with a whopping 27 tracks. I remember first hearing the album on Gilles Peterson’s radio show and it immediately lived up to all the hype that had preceded it. It sounds like something jettisoned in from a nearby alien planet and it’s truly mind-expanding and world making.

Post-punk-funksters, Sault are an act I came into 2019 knowing nothing about and now absolutely love. Their 5 album mixed up everything from afro-beat and disco to R&B and psychedelia and created a sound that transcended its influences and put them firmly on my ‘must see live’ list.

London post-punk newcomers, Pozi, we’re another band that came in from nowhere and absolutely blew me away. There’s something hard hitting and immediate about their sound and it’s mixed with a gentle lyricism that hypnotised me from the moment I first heard them via a Spotify recommendation. Not a lot of people seem to be banging on about them and they’re currently still supporting small bands around the country. Their PZI album deserves to change all that and I can’t wait to see them when they get round to headlining a tour and visiting Manchester.

So, onto my album of the year and the ramshackled, zeitgeist striking, heart wrenching, lyrical wonderment of Richard Dawson’s 2020. I had the pleasure of watching him play live last month and it was one the best gigs I’ve ever been to. It had everything – warmth, humour, moments of sadness and joy and above all else a collection of some of the best folk songs written in the past 30 years. He’s a master storyteller and the tales he weaves across 2020 beautifully capture modern British life in what most, level headed folk would admit are utterly baffling and topsy-turvy times. His album filled me up with the kind of nourishment that left me needing no pudding – a feat in itself.

Richard Dawson – 2020
Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
SAULT – 5
Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Cate Le Bon – Reward
Pozi – PZI
Flying Lotus – Flamagra
DJ Shadow – Our Pathetic Age
Denzel Curry – ZUU
Vanishing Twin – The Age Of Immunology

That’s our top ten, what’s yours?

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