I decided to write about some music that I have listened to a lot this year. Although not necessarily albums that have been released in 2019, here are 19 that I have been enjoying whilst planning and writing my new release.
I’ve made a ‘march’s 2019 picks’ playlist on Spotify featuring all of the tracks that I’ve written about below if you want to go and give it a listen and follow for updates…
The Tallest Man On Earth – I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. (2019)
Perhaps not what I’d usually listen to but I love how these songs have been written, crafted, recorded and produced (all by Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson in his house I believe). After one listen I could remember so many ideas, lyrics and melodies. A great poet and storyteller with so much detail in the arrangement. This album feels isolating and nostalgic – my favourite things. Emotive and raspy vocals, twangy banjo/guitar rhythms yet beautifully fragile in places.
Top two tracks – My Dear / All I Can Keep Is Now
Favourite lyric – “My moon is empty and the streets are wide, I look for nothing and I feel all right, Stillness in the ways I tried, And then you walk on by“
Rozi Plain – What A Boost (2019)
I had the pleasure of hearing this album live at Glastonbury this summer, and later on at The Joiners (Southampton) where I supported Rozi & band. I love the minimalist sound and tranquility of the songs. Rozi’s smooth, floaty vox over the mix of bluesy guitar riffs, synths, and percussive layers creates something unique – with an added element of energy when hearing it live.
Top two tracks – Conditions / Swing Shut
Favourite lyric – “Now you can’t finish the book, And you wonder how that looks”
Rachael Dadd – Flux (2019)
Rhythmic, light, and energetic not-quite-folk vibes. Interesting, progressive and alternative songs with beautiful lyrics, textures and interweaving backing vocals. I love this album! Found it through a playlist at my old workplace The Art House, Southampton (also featuring songs from Rozi Plain – believe they both played there at some point).
Top two tracks – Language of Water / Animal
Favourite lyric – “I’m part of the Earth and its a part of me, My feet are my roots and my head is free”
Feist – Pleasure (2017)
Once a Feist fan, always a Feist fan <3 This album is my favourite yet, with a more gritty/Indie feel. So many great songs! Rock n Roll vibes and gentle moments and mad production/arrangement, this is honestly one of my favourite albums ever.
Top two tracks – Century / Baby Be Simple
Favourite lyric – “She wanted feelings that got in her own way”
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room (2016)
I don’t really know how to describe the music of Laura Mvula so I’d say she has created her own writing style of classical pop/orchestral soul (?!) with crazy polyrhythmic arrangements, beautiful harmony and powerful vocals. I love the production of this album too (Troy Miller). I listened to it loads whilst driving to and from festivals and associate it with the summer months…
Top two tracks – Show Me Love / Let Me Fall
Favourite lyric – “Never thought we would be torn apart by a change in the wind, Or a cloud in the sky”
Planetarium – Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister, (2017)
I recently discovered this album co-composed by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, contemporary composer/arranger Nico Muhly (Björk, David Bowie, Britten Sinfonia), Bryce Dessner (from The National – one of my favourite bands), and drummer James McAlister. So naturally have had it on repeat because WHAT a mix of humans – and it’s inspired by the Solar System and that’s really cool. Heavy orchestral instrumentals, catchy Sufjan chorus’ and bassy sci-fi tracks with an experimental/soundtrack feel – there’s a bit of a mix of different ideas. I like running to it.
Top two tracks – Venus / Moon
Favourite lyric – ‘”Oh no, There I go twisting your arm, Oracle ghost, Love me completely in song“
Self Esteem – Compliments Please (2019)
I got to hear some of these gems live at Glastonbury and The Joiners too. Rebecca Taylor creates confessional and dramatic pop that’s right in your face, telling (mainly, I think) an intimate break-up story. I like the simplicity of the lyrics – it’s not difficult to interpret the song meanings but their confident (and often comical) content paired with the sassy and catchy melodies results in an album I’ve found quite addictive!
Top two tracks – Steady I Stand / Rollout
Favourite lyric – “What does it matter? She hated me the whole time”
St Vincent – Marry Me (2007)
This is a relatively old album but I only fully got into St Vincent’s catalogue this year, and started right from the beginning. After listening to pretty much everything she’s ever released, this album (her first) remains my favourite. I love the chordal progressions she uses in her writing, along with the abstract and eccentric lyrics. I also love the range of sounds and instruments used within the inspiring production.
Top two tracks – All My Stars Aligned / Human Racing
Favourite lyric – ‘”Your heart is a strange little orange to peel”
Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
I know I’m ridiculously late to the party, but I’d only ever been an OK Computer kinda gal so this year I’ve been listening to more Radiohead and becoming a big fan. I also love Amnesiac and A Moon Shaped Pool, but the apocalyptic and electronic sounding Kid A is definitely my favourite of the lot so far. Don’t need to say much more except go listen if you are a latecomer like me!
Top two tracks – Idioteque / How To Disappear Completely
Favourite lyric – ‘”We’re not scaremongering, This is really happening”
Thom Yorke – The Eraser (2006)
Following on from Kid A nicely, I’ve also been listening to frontman Thom Yorke’s solo stuff which is as enjoyable, if not more. I love this album – still need to catch up and listen to the rest of his solo projects (particularly his latest ‘Anima’ which I’ve heard super good things about). I actually recognised a lot of these tracks so probably had heard them before and assumed they were from a Radiohead release. Having read about the album, the tracks were largely created from playing with computers, using Radiohead’s catalogue of original sound samples. I think Radiohead/Thom Yorke have such a unique sound that is unlike most things I have heard – perhaps some influences from Björk and different types of rock/electronic music – but really original and distinctive. I love Thom Yorke even more because he uses his music and voice to speak out about climate change and global warming.
Top two tracks – The Clock / Atoms For Peace
Favourite lyric – “Peel all of your layers off, I want to eat your artichoke heart. No more leaky holes in your brain, And no more false starts”
Nils Frahm – All Encores (2019)
I’ve loved getting to know the music of Nils Frahm this year, after many recommendations from well-respected music pals. I think this album sounds more simple than some earlier stuff I’ve heard, but I have been loving listening to it when working/walking/reading/sitting/staring mindlessly into space. The first few tracks are mainly solo piano and have a melancholic feel, and the rest of the album is similar to his earlier more ambient/textured instrumentals. Maybe these songs were after-thoughts to his previous album ‘All Melody’ which is also definitely worth a listen and perhaps a bit more ambitious in sound.
Top two tracks – Sweet Little Lie / A Walking Embrace
Favourite lyric – n/a
Kate Stapley – Centella (2018)
I heard the music of Kate Stapley for the first time ever at Home Farm Festival (on the Folkroom stage where I had played earlier in the evening). Slightly tipsy, listening to her and her acoustic guitar I was blown away by her storytelling, songwriting and ability to retain my interest throughout every lyric and melody. Listening on Spotify after the festival I found this EP to be even greater than when I first heard some of the songs, and I have had it on a lot since. Really looking forward to more music coming in the future!
Top two tracks – Iceland / These Planets
Favourite lyric – “Mercury’s in retrograde and I”m still in pain, I came off all the things that were pushing it further in my brain”
Rae Morris – Someone Out There (2018)
Always been a Rae fan and this album has been on my Spotify downloads since it came out. This experimental pop album is full of upbeat, catchy dance tracks but still carries the ethereal and emotional vocal style and unexpected melodies of Rae’s earlier stuff, distinguishing it from other tunes I’ve heard in the charts these days. I heard it live at Salisbury Arts Centre before it had even come out – and it was a while until I got to hear some of the tracks again. It was an absolute pleasure to support Rae Morris at Hoxton Hall in November of this year – a real highlight for me and super exciting to know that there’s some new material from Rae coming in the future.
Top two tracks – Push Me To My Limit / Lower The Tone
Favourite lyric – “Lower the tone so I can love you more, The lower you go, the more I am yours, ‘Cause your dark side is beautiful”
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
Having been a SVE fan for a couple of years, I can hear the evolution of her songwriting in new release ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ after spending my university days listening to her 2014 album ‘Are We There’. Heard her play at Glastonbury this year too and loved it. The album was made with John Congleton (producer who has worked with St Vincent) and has quite an aggressive sound packed with synths, jarring textures and a slight uneasiness (but still catchy and totally memorable). It is also atmospheric and conjures up some sort of gritty nostalgia in the dark, observational nature of the lyrics. She wrote it after some big life changes (like having a baby) which makes listening even more fascinating.
Top two tracks – I Told You Everything/ Seventeen
Favourite lyric – “I see you so uncomfortably alone, I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown“
múm – Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy (2007)
Another Art House (Southampton) find that I heard playing there one day. This tickled my ears and I’ve been listening to the rest of their stuff since. Icelandic/electronic/glitchy/experimental with soft ambient vocals. Kind of Radiohead-esque with random accordions and percussive folk vibes. Love their artwork too.
Top two tracks – Blessed Brambles / Moon Pulls
Favourite lyric – “Feel the moon pull your lover’s blood up to the sky“
Björk – Vespertine (2001)
Whilst always admiring Björk and knowing most of her earliest albums and well-known tracks – I’d never really dug deep into her music until the start of 2018. I’ve listened to her pretty much every week of this year I reckon, and this album has been on repeat on many occasions. I think it is my absolute favourite of hers and has inspired me in so many ways. I got to hear/see/experience Björk live at the o2 arena this year on her ‘Cornucopia’ tour which was INSANE, and she even treated us to a couple of songs from this album (Hidden Place a cappella version with Icelandic choir, and a snippet of Pagan Poetry). I love every song on this album, the instrumentation, the lyrics, orchestration and production. It’s impossible to pick 2 favourite tracks but I think these have been my most played…
Top two tracks – Unison / Pagan Poetry
Favourite lyric – “I thrive best, hermit style, With a beard, and a pipe, And a parrot on each side, But now I can’t do this without you“
Kate Bush – The Sensual World (1989)
Obviously had to include some KB in this list. Always loved Hounds of Love and random songs from here and there, but The Sensual World has become my favourite start to finish album (I think, at the moment anyway). I love the mix of rock instrumentation, bagpipes, and feature of a Bulgarian folk trio (Trio Bulgarka). I find it fascinating how many references Kate Bush uses in her writing and how much art/literature/history she is inspired by. (This album alone references Ulysses, William Blake, Hitler, falling in love with a computer…)
Top two tracks – The Sensual World / Rocket’s Tail
Favourite lyric – “He said I was a flower of the mountain, But now I’ve powers o’er a woman’s body“
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (2013)
My friend made me a playlist of prog music that he thought I’d like, and lo and behold I’ve been getting my paws into the likes of Yes, Genesis, Haken, Pink Floyd…and really bloody enjoying it. This is one album that I’ve had the time to listen to front to back (what is it with these long songs??) and I think it’s wonderful. There are loads of Steven Wilson tracks that I like from other albums too, particularly from Transience and To The Bone, but this is the only one I’ve listened to in full so thought I’d add it to the list. Someone even asked me after my set at a recent gig if I was influenced by SW, so its safe to say I’ve joined the prog club. Check out the video for ‘Drive Home’ and ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’ too.
Top two tracks – Drive Home / The Pin Drop
Favourite lyric – “I have not lived and loved enough, Things are left unsaid, undone, It was not to meant to be like this, Drifting off without a kiss“
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 (1906-07)
Had to throw this into the mix. Not an album but something I’ve been listening to a lot recently. I’ve been listening to more and more classical music in my spare time, and this masterpiece gets me right in the heart every time…my mum told me to listen to it because her and my dad used to – and it’s just so beautiful that I’ve even started writing a song taking inspiration from some of the melodies and ideas. Listen to it, it’s yummy. I like running to it, but if you’re someone that likes to run in time to 120bpm bangers then this isn’t a good idea! I think the adagio is my fave, but you’ve really got to listen to the whole thing.