9 criminally underrated albums released in 2019
From Nilüfer Yanya to Caroline Polachek, here are our most over-looked albums of the year.
Nowadays, so much new music is released that it is impossible to listen to absolutely everything. The way that streaming services prioritise certain acts means that excellence can fly under the radar, relegated to word-of-mouth on social media or the championing of a few dedicated fans. To make sure that you don’t ring out 2019 without hearing some of these unsung musical heroes, we’ve put together nine of our favourite underrated albums of 2019. We hope you enjoy.
1. Nilüfer Yanya -- Miss Universe
Nilufer Yanya is excavating things on Miss Universe. The South London musician’s first full body of work is an ode to the here and now: a collection of songs about the pangs of anxiety we feel in a time when a bombardment of advertising, GDPR regulations and data shape our lives. “We are here for you, we care for you, we worry about you so you don’t have to,” a monotonous, Oz-like voice drones over the album’s opening interlude -- that of a fictional health programme she’s created as part of its grander narrative. But strip this album back to its bare bones and what you’re left with is still a smart, knowing run of tracks that transform guitar music’s often mundane message into something zesty, catchy and killer. From the crashing cymbals of the anxiety anthem “In My Head” to the tinges of electronica in “Tears”, this is a rousing record I revisit all the time. Douglas Greenwood
Listen to Miss Universe by Nilüfer Yanya here.
2. Caroline Polachek -- Pang
You knew her as one half of Chairlift. But you didn't know her, not truly, until she released her first album under her own name (check out prior projects Ramona Lisa and CEP!) this October. A fantasy world in which the impossibly talented Caroline Polachek reveals all, Pang charts huge change and the freedom that ultimately comes with it; twinges of apathy, heartbreak, jealousy and vulnerability stab softly throughout. A lesson in moving on and a very, very exciting development for the pop world. Oh, and Pang, naturally, has a spirit animal: the greyhound. “They look the way a pang of hunger feels… ready to bolt but also affectionate, big-eyed and mythical, tugging at the leash.” This album is so hot it’s hurting my feelings. Frankie Dunn
Listen to Pang by Caroline Polachek here.
3. Broods -- Don't Feed the Pop Monster
It makes sense that Broods’ third album flew under the radar. The album was something of a rest for the New Zealand brother and sister duo as they returned to the lighter, sparkly sonics of their debut self-titled EP. If anything, though, Don’t Feed the Pop Monster takes their brand of melancholic synth-pop and strips away any pretences. The result is something far tighter and accessible than anything they’ve previously released. “Peach” is genuinely one of 2019’s most uplifting songs, while I haven’t heard a better song than “Too Proud” this year that tackles the shame that surrounds the men’s mental health struggles. Meanwhile, “Falling Apart” is the aural equivalent of a crumbling suburban idyll, dry and breathy with both heat and resignation, and “Dust” is one of my favourite sad bops the year, all wistful melodies and despondent lyrics. It’s left-field, sure, but pop music of the highest quality. Alim Kheraj
Listen to Don't Feed the Pop Monster by Broods here.
4. Self Esteem -- Compliments Please
At the start of 2019, I spent three months straight listening to Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s debut record: 16 tracks (poetic interludes included) of clever, cut-to-the-bone pop music crafted from the experience of being needed, fucked over and coming out of it all bearing two middle fingers to everyone who ever had the gall to doubt your power. It’s peppered with incisive one liners (“Remember you don’t owe them anything”), valuable life mantras and enough vulnerability to leave you blubbering over a relationship you never lived through. Her first record since her indie-pop outfit Slow Club parted ways is the epitome of brilliant British pop music. See her perform it live or you’re cancelled. DG
Listen to Compliments Please by Self Esteem here.
5. Galcher Lustwerk -- Information
Ideal for working to, late night driving to, dancing sleepily in the club to. Marking his first full length on Ghostly International, and third album under this pseudonym, New York house producer-rapper Galcher Lustwerk levels up with Information. His jazzy percussion, melodic bass lines and fragmented stream of consciousness rhymes make for a refreshingly mellow respite from the stresses of 2019. Makes a lot of sense considering the record was the result of the artist feeling incredibly burnt out for the past two years -- it sounds as tired as we all feel, in the best of ways. Tracks “Another Story”, “Bit” and of course “Angel Cig” are real stand-outs. FD
Listen to Information by Galcher Lustwerk here.
6. Tove Lo -- Sunshine Kitty
In a few decades when we look back at the 2010s, we’ll realise just how important Tove Lo was in shaping the trajectory of pop music. The Swedish singer’s fourth album is a masterclass on being sexually frank and incredibly horny, tying it all up with heartbreak and tears. “Glad He’s Gone” is exemplary pop lyricism, specific and generic at the same time. There’s also some great bisexual energy on “Bad as the Boys” featuring ALMA, and her duet with Kylie Minogue, “Really Don’t Like U”, is one of 2019’s most inspired collabs (and a welcome return for Kylie into the realm of dance pop). In a world filled with popstars chasing playlists, Tove Lo’s barefaced honesty, her boldness, and her commitment to writing songs about complications of fucking deserves to be recognised. More of the same for the future, tbh. AK
Listen to Sunshine Kitty by Tove Lo here.
7. The Japanese House -- Good at Falling
We really are living in the golden age of the melancholic pop record, aren’t we? 2017 gave us Lorde’s Melodrama, 2018 Robyn’s Honey and in 2019, this sorely underappreciated but visceral album spun the narrative towards queer love for the first time. The Japanese House’s Good at Falling graciously unpacked the emotional journey of its maker. Amber Bain, one of Britain’s most perceptive songwriters, put everything into this: every miniscule detail of battling her own body (“Maybe You’re The Reason”), drifting apart from a lover (“Lilo”) and intense, warped disdain towards yourself (“Everybody Hates Me”). It emanates violent emotions sometimes, and listening to is often akin to wallowing in your own wavering sense of self worth. Sore but stunning. DG
Listen to Good at Falling by the Japanese House here.
8. Erika de Casier -- Essentials
Why hasn’t Copenhagen producer and vocalist Erika de Casier blown up yet? Her debut album Essentials channels lo-fi 90s R&B through a soulful pop lens and takes it out for a sexy night on the dancefloor. “Puppy Love” is pop perfection while “Intimate” is an ASMR dream -- as though Erika is laying right across the pillow from you whispering: “I wanna get intimate with ya/ Do you mind if I take you there?” There are elements of Robyn on the record too, as well as heady new age Ibiza nostalgia, ushering in the cool dusk after a long day in the sun. My 2020 vision says you should keep a close eye on this one. FD
Listen to Essentials by Erika de Casier here.
9. Anaïs -- darkness at play
By the end of 2019, it’s probably fair to say that we’ve reached our limit with “state of the world” music. Artists from Taylor Swift to Lana Del Rey have weighed in on just how messed up society is. However, at the beginning of the year newcomer Anaïs released a “body of work” (still unsure if we can call it an album) that captured the weariness, displacement, confusion, joy and comfort that can be found in our world. In my opinion, it’s the most socio-politically astute album since Solange’s A Seat at the Table, with songwriting that matches that mastery. Opening track “Sunflower” is beautiful, and peppered throughout are frissons of excellence. It’s an album about holding on to some semblance of hope and trying to find some way to feel okay. Now ain’t that just the theme of this decade? AK
Listen to darkness at play by Anaïs here.