As if that title wasn’t disclaimer enough – no, I have not listened to every single album released this year. Shocking, I know. I still haven’t gotten around to the new Jamila Woods album yet, even though apparently everyone loves it, and I really liked HEAVN, and I could be listening it right now, but instead I’m writing this blog post. Sorry.
Anyway, here are six albums that have been the soundtrack to my 2019, or at least my January through June.
Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande
Sweetener was one of my most listened-to albums last year, and this is a worthy follow-up. Thank U, Next hits the right balance between flirty bops and the sort of vulnerability that took Grande’s stardom to the next level. This is a highly-polished pop album, but I still have a soft spot for its angstier moments, like “In My Head” and “Fake Smile”. And of course I won’t hear a single bad word about the title song, which achieved immediate immortality upon its release.
I skip “7 Rings” every time though. Don’t @ me.
Finally: when are we getting a full album from Grande’s songwriter, collaborator and BFF Victoria Monét? Last year’s Life After Love, Pt. 2 was great and left me wanting more. Go check her out.
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish
This will make me sound painfully old and hopelessly uncool, but here goes: I checked this album out so I could find out what all the kids were into. Based on this, teenage girls today want to be unknowable Eldritch god-queens with spider eyes and swords for arms. I am 100% down with this and think it is something we should all encourage. You go for it, spider-teens!
This is what would happen if Wednesday Addams made a pop album. There are some songs about heartbreak, but also some songs about spilling the blood of one’s enemies. Eilish also adds a lot of enjoyably weird touches. Cutting a song with multiple clips from The Office really shouldn’t work (“My Strange Addiction”), but it somehow does. (I could have done without the gross Invisalign sounds that kick off the album though.)
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has its flaws. But it’s definitely fun, and that’s kept me coming back to it.
On the Line by Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis was my idol back in high school (a feeling well-articulated by Jessica Roy) but I’d fallen out of touch with her work after Rabbit Fur Coat. It’s nice to return to that old hero worship.
Lewis remains the master of blowing a love song apart with one cutting couplet (“I am such a coward / How could you send her flowers?”). But this album also sees her smothering heartbreak with partying, from drunken sex to trippy visions of scorpions. “Little White Dove” is a surprisingly funky addition to the canon of former twee darlings visiting an estranged, dying parent in the hospital (although Sufjan Stevens’ “Fourth of July” still tops it for me).
My favourite track is “Wasted Youth”, with its deceptively upbeat chorus about addiction. Lewis has clearly been through some shit since I first listened to her 15 years ago. There’s nothing on On the Line that triggers the same level of obsessive adoration as I felt listening to “Does He Love You?” for the first time, and I’m not sure if that’s down to the album itself, or just no longer being a teenager. But deep down, there’s a part of me that still thinks she’s the coolest woman alive.
Grey Area by Little Simz
I’ve been enjoying individual tracks from Little Simz for years, but her albums have never quite landed for me. That all changes with Grey Area, which absolutely knocks it out of the park. There are 10 tracks here, and not a dud in the bunch.
Simz’s flow is incredible, but the breadth of her writing is what really makes this album stand out. And she’s got a lot on her mind, from gun violence and police brutality to duplicitous exes and self-actualisation (“Some people read The Alchemist and still never amount to shit”). She can radiate well-earned confidence – as braggadocio goes, it’s hard to beat “I’m Jay-Z on a bad day / Shakespeare on my worst days”. But she’s also not afraid to be emotionally vulnerable on tracks like “Therapy” or “Sherbet Sunset”. No matter what, she’s a figure of strength against a world that’s doing its best to tear her down.
Inflo’s production deserves special mention, providing a perfect base for all of Simz’s moods. There are also some great guest appearances, including Little Dragon and Michael Kiwanuka, which supplement but never upstage her bars. If this doesn’t end up on every “Best Of” lists this year, there’s no justice in popular music.
Fever by Megan Thee Stallion
Mom, maybe don’t listen to this one. But between last year’s Tina Snow EP and now Fever, Megan Thee Stallion is bound to be dominating my Spotify stats at the end of the year.
Megan has two main concerns on her mind: sex and money. Haters remain a distant third, although there’s the occasional consideration for anime (“When I switch my hair to blonde I’m finna turn up like Goku”). She demolishes men with a single bar like a stiletto to the skull and freestyles like an absolute monster. Her confidence is exhilarating and intoxicating.
Megan already has a legion of devoted fans, and Fever has been pushing her hype to, well, fever pitch, although I have to wonder if her raunchy lyrics will keep her out of the top 40. But does she even need top 40? Who cares? If she keeps up like this, I’m pretty sure she’s set for world domination.
Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood
It took me a few goes to get into Titanic Rising, as I first put it on while doing something distracting – work, grocery shopping, etc. That was a mistake, as this is an album that deserves your full attention. When I finally did give it the proper focus, it touched me to the core, and still grows on me more with every listen.
Titanic Rising touches on all modern anxieties, from dating (“True love is making a comeback / For only half of us, the rest just feel bad”) to climate change. The album’s opener, “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, is the perfect introduction, as Natalie Mering sings about the missing that feeling of childhood security – “when I had the whole world gently wrapped around me”. That sense of safety is gone, and it’s never coming back. Life is hard, scary and uncertain, but somehow, we have to come to terms with it.
Despite the often bleak subject matter, Mering’s beautiful voice and writing feels almost restorative. This album is a cup of herbal tea and the best cry you’ve ever had. It may be “a wild time to be alive”, but at least we have her music to help us cope.