For several years now, millennial playlists have reflected a trend: pop and chart music sitting next to rock, electronic, metal, indie, rap, punk and any other genre you can think of. But for the first time in a long time, some of the best moments of 2019 felt like the ones on the charts. From the Ariana Grandes and Taylor Swifts that narrowly missed this list, to those below who made our Top 20, there’s been a perceivable shift in what we might have previously considered “cool”. And it’s the girls from Lizzo to Billie Eilish to Stella Donnelly to Lana Del Rey that are leading the charge – 12 of the X-Press Top 20 Albums for 2019 are from artists fronted by women. Meanwhile five come from debutants; at least another five from reunions, reworkings and reimaginings of well-loved artists. Welcome to the dawn of a new decade. Happy listening.
20. Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka
Produced by Danger Mouse, the third album from British-Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Michael Kiwanuka plunders from 70s cosmic rock, classic soul, Afrobeat and even Hendrix, and yet manages to make all of these sound completely new and interesting again. Totally knowing and self-aware, an analogue postcard from the past that still fits perfectly in 2019.
– GORDON JONES
19. Art of Fighting Luna Low
18. Holly Herndon Proto
On her third album, Holly Herndon jams with AI program Spawn to create a sprawling sound collage of voices, melodies and beats for PROTO. Among the many shorter, experimental tracks are standout long form compositions such as SWIM, Eternal, Alienation, Frontier and Last Gasp that both resonate emotionally and push electronic music to brave new realms.
– PAUL DOUGHTY
17. Tool Fear Inoculum
Expectation for Fear Inoculum grew with every year its release date stewed. This album feels like a swansong, a veritable pick-and-mix of Tool’s older records, each track consisting of throwbacks to your favourite of their songs. With vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s cleaner-than-usual vocal style and the positive messages hidden throughout, this is probably Tool’s most approachable album since Ænima – despite the daunting track lengths.
– MELISSA KRUGER
16. Lizzo Cuz I Love You
There’s a new queen in town, and she’s 100% bad bitch. Right from the big band entrance of opening, title track Cuz I Love You, the album captures your awe, lifting you up. Lizzo herself is like the preacher out front of a feminist choir. Her lyrics are full of sassy, self-affirming, body positive, power anthems. She’s the strong, alternative role model for women (young and old) everywhere that we needed, now more than ever. Well played sister.
15. Amyl & the Sniffers Amyl & the Sniffers
Have a sniff, relax your rectum and sink into Amyl & The Sniffer’s self-titled debut full length. The pixie-pub-punk rock band from Balaclava, Melbs have lived up to the hype by earning themselves an ARIA for Best Rock Album in 2019. Lead singer Amy Taylor contrasts sweetness with raw aggression as she spits out lyrics like “go fuck yourself”; we’re talking raw production and tight punk rock where simplicity and speed is key with just enough hooks to keep you coming back for another hit.
– ANTHONY JACKSON
14. Sharon Van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow
Five albums deep, Sharon Van Etten is producing some of her most honest music to date. Like the opening stanza of the title track, “Holy shit/ You almost died,” the album is a revelation. Remind Me Tomorrow rips out your heartstrings, but hints at resolution and the future. Full of raw emotion and honesty, the invigorated electronic sounds leads to an album that is begging to be seen live.
13. Aldous Harding Designer
While it was 2017’s sophomore record Party that took Kiwi outsider Aldous Harding to the masses, it is Designer that has consolidated her brand of eccentricity. Produced by John Parish, the album brims with vivacious alt-pop-takes such as The Barrel, the delicate Zoo Eyes and the hypnotic groove of Fixture Picture. Like Harding, the album glows bright from the start, but it is only after repeated listens that we really glimpse the extent of her creative world.
– MICHAEL HOLLICK
12. Cate Le Bon Reward
Cate Le Bon is this generation’s Kate Bush, a supremely talented musician who can produce simultaneously demented yet catchy hooks like no other. Reward is an art pop triumph, Le Bon’s songwriting taking massive strides, without reigning in her experimental side. Singles Daylight Matters, Home to You and The Light are her biggest yet.
– MATIJA ZIVKOVIC
11. Thom Yorke Anima
The Radiohead frontman returned this year with his richest-sounding solo record yet, one that really travelled through a diverse range of emotions, giving it an almost conceptual or cinematic quality that takes the listener on quite a journey. Yorke brought his composition strengths to the forefront and created an album that’s as satisfying as it is mysterious.
– DAVID MORGAN BROWN
10. Weyes Blood Titanic Rising
A move to Sub Pop coincides with a confident new album for Weyes Blood. Natalie Mering sounds positively classic on tracks such as Andromeda, Movies and Everyday, channelling the innocent long-lost pop of Karen Carpenter with uplifting arrangements including strings, huge choruses and new-found dream pop sensibilities.
– PAUL DOUGHTY
9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors
All Mirrors makes for a fine case study in exponential artistic growth. Olsen channels the ghosts of Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg to make a lush, expansive, dreamscape chamber pop album dripping in grandeur and pathos. She’s gone from gritty lo-fi alt-country to this in just four albums, and even if not everything totally works, you can’t help but respect the scope and ambition.
– GORDON JONES
8. Swans leaving meaning.
leaving meaning. is a blissful yet at times unsettling listen from veterans Swans. Frontman Michael Gira is still present, as are his distinctive vocals, but he joins forces with several new guests from The Necks to Ben Frost, who serve up an expansive and visionary double album. Layered and considered, Gira engages with the current cultural and political era by contemplating the potential for humans to dissipate from history. A tremendous and ambitious artistic statement.
– MICHAEL HOLLICK
7. Fontaines D.C. Dogrel
When frontman Grian Chatten sings “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big!” on the opening song to Fontaines D.C.’s debut, you can’t help believing in these boys from the better land. The year’s most exciting rock record comes from a Dublin post-punk band who brazenly ask “Is it too real for ya?” then bemoan the company and its “no future” ethics (Roy’s Tune). Between Chatten’s unmistakable accent and a barrage of hurricane guitars, expect Fontaines to be a highlight a Laneway.
– HARVEY RAE
6. Julia Jacklin Crushing
Julia Jacklin’s stunning voice is always warmly welcome but Crushing provides the listener with something more solemn than previous releases. It focuses on struggling relationships and memories from the past, and Jacklin’s beautiful songwriting captures these emotions in such a raw way, the listener can’t help but consider how Jacklin felt in moments like “Do you still have that photograph?/ Would you use it to hurt me?/ Well, I guess it’s just my life/ And it’s just my body” (Body).
– KIERRA POLLOCK
5. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Ghosteen
The legendary Australian rock band stripped back their sound to an almost ambient soundscape level, establishing a new direction in the process, as frontman Nick Cave battled the painful grief of losing his son in these gorgeous, yet mournful songs. Accompanied by equally stunning lyrics, they delve into prose and storytelling that unravel in perfect time to the album’s emotional intensity.
– DAVID MORGAN BROWN
4. Purple Mountains Purple Mountains
The late, great David Berman gave us an almost Bowie-esque parting statement with Purple Mountains. As laugh out loud funny as it is unsettling given he took his life so soon after its release, you’re likely to find yourself singing along jauntily to That’s Just the Way That I Feel right before an inevitable lump forms on All My Happiness Is Gone and remains for the duration. The former Silver Jews frontman’s swan-song is certainly bittersweet, but his timeless songwriting and turn of phrase ensures it’s a classic.
– HARVEY RAE
3. Billie Eilish when we all fall asleep, where do we go?
Was it the year of Billie? Almost. Billie Eilish only solidified her unshakable reputation as one of the most influential artists of the modern music scene with her debut full length release. A dazzling journey through restrained, imitable production, and escorted by Eilish’s delicately controlled tone and conceptual storytelling. At just 17 years of age, this record is just the beginning – and a promising one at that.
– CAITLIN NORRIS
2. Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Norman Fucking Rockwell! is so strong that it has cemented Del Rey as America’s finest modern day singer-songwriter. Paring back the hip hop influences and overt darkness of previous records, this is primarily a set of tastefully orchestrated, folk-inflected ballads, and they are all brilliant. Lyrically it’s as bleak and cynical as ever, but Del Rey’s growing maturity and self-awareness imbues these songs with a sadness that is sometimes hard to bear. The broken men, losers and users are still there, but this is as much an album about America itself as it is about its characters. A must-listen, and the best album about California since the 70s.
– MATIJA ZIVKOVIC
1. Stella Donnelly Beware of the Dogs
With sweet backdrops and even sweeter vocals, Stella Donnelley’s “trick” on Beware of the Dogs is making her debut album a confronting social commentary for the ages. Delving into issues including sexual assault, power imbalance and gender inequality, each song reveals the inner thoughts of the Perth prodigy and adds a layer of humour to bring the messages into poetic protest. This 13-track indie pop album expertly juxtaposes charming, melodic tones with harsh realities to create a powerful but playful collection to soundtrack this moment in history, making it not just the album of 2019, but an album for 2019. With standout tracks including Old Man, Tricks, Lunch and Beware of the Dogs, this album would be a deserving number one on any international list, but we’re also proud to call her WA’s own.
– AMBER LILLEY
X-PRESS CONTRIBUTOR & EDITOR TOP TENS
Check out what your favourite writers (in alphabetical order) voted for in one of the most diverse end of year polls we’ve ever seen…