Albums and gigs of 2019

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In what has been a rich year for music, our contributors choose their favourite albums and gigs of 2019.

FAITH GLEDHILL

Bang Bang Romeo

Bang Bang Romeo

Album of the year

Bang Bang Romeo – A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Eleven Seven)

Choosing Bang Bang Romeo’s debut offering as my album of the year came quite easily; they’re a band I’ve followed for a number of years now and it’s been a joy to witness their ascent. They’ve spent 2019 touring relentlessly, playing stadiums the world over alongside pop royalty Pink, and the release of their album is a fitting denouement to an immensely triumphant year. A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy is nothing short of empirical; it’s intrepid, effervescent and beautiful from start to finish. Leading lady Anastasia Walker’s vocal talents know no bounds; it’s a voice so distinctive and powerful that she could sing the alphabet song and make it compelling. The standout tracks are the searing You & I and the paradisiacal Adore Me, both of which have become much loved fixtures in the band’s live set over the years. I think it’s safe to say that great things await Bang Bang Romeo in the not too distant future, and this album is indisputable proof of their glorious virtuosity.

Gig of the year

Fontaines DC

Fontaines DC

Giant Rooks at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, October 10

Let me begin by stating without adornment that Giant Rooks are an extraordinarily remarkable young band. How incredible it must be to travel to a completely different country and be so warmly embraced as the German quintet find themselves in Leeds for their headline show at the Brudenell Social Club. What is perhaps so special about them is their somewhat idiosyncratic musical styling; they combine a variety of genres with such fluent dexterity that seeing them live is nothing short of an adventure, effortlessly amalgamating indie-pop, folk and electronica... sometimes all within a single track! They have a stage presence which many far more established acts would kill for; frontman Frederik Rabe commands the crowd like a maestro with a pair of drumsticks which he uses to play a curtailed kit at the front of the stage. Impossible to label and even more impossible to forget, Giant Rooks cast off what is conventional and derivative in favour of something a little more empirical.

DAVID HODGSON

Album of the year

Charli XCX performing at Leeds Festival. Picture: Mark Bickerdike

Charli XCX performing at Leeds Festival. Picture: Mark Bickerdike

Pat Dam Smyth – The Last King (Quiet Arch)

Deciding whether this refers to best album or the one I’ve enjoyed the most has caused some angst. The best album of the year is, unequivocally, Fontaines DC’s Dogrel. The one that’s given most joy and so, given that’s what music was put on this world to do, I have plumped for is Pat Dam Smyth’s The Last King.

It’s a wonderful, brooding and engaging album, throwing shades of Pink Floyd over melodic rock and folk influences, a mesmerising ten tracks about not the easiest of subjects, growing up during the Troubles. Wonderfully produced, it deserves all the exposure and plaudits.

Gig of the year

Sarathy Korwar. Picture: Rishabh Sood

Sarathy Korwar. Picture: Rishabh Sood

Fontaines DC at Brudenell Social Club on April 12

Despite it feeling a little fraudulent gig of the year being a shortened set, the beauty of Fontaines DC’s at the Brudenell Social Club is that it suited them. Debut album Dogrel is a punchy, stark, aggressive piece of work, it doesn’t need drawing out.

It deserves a venue where the constantly fidgeting Grian Chatten can spit out his punk lyrics, leaning out into the crowd. The swirling guitars on Hurricane Laughter make hairs stand on end, Big and Boys in The Better Land already anthems. A stirring, exhausting but important set, leaving everyone breathless but elated, energised but drained, all at the same time.

ABI WHISTANCE

Album of the year

Charli XCX – Charli (Asylum)

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Lena. Picture: Mick Burgess

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Lena. Picture: Mick Burgess

Pop has never been so progressive as with Charli XCX’s Charli. The new album from the enigmatic star dropped earlier this year, bringing an end to the rut the charts seemed to have been stuck in. The light at the end of the tunnel, this record is futuristic beyond belief, rich with tasteful collaborations, and developing further on an artist’s love of AI-esque vocals. It’s common knowledge that Charli XCX can write a chart-topper, but it’s only with Charli that she has written an entire record to do this solely for herself.

Gig of the year

Strand of Oaks at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on May 29

Hitting nearly three gigs a week for the majority of 2019, it’s not very often that I can say I’ve been completely mesmerised by a performance. Always enjoying myself nonetheless, but my feet are firmly planted on the ground, never quite letting myself drift somewhere else for an hour or so. Hearing Strand of Oaks play their way through Eraserland was the first time this year I found myself coming unstuck, their knack for a kind of alt-rock enriched with vulnerability and softness yet to be matched. It doesn’t take an awful lot for them to get you- three songs in and they’ve pulled you down the rabbit hole.

ANDREW STEEL

Album of the year

LCD Soundsystem – Electric Lady Sessions (DFA)

Coming a year-and-a-half after their critically acclaimed studio return American Dream, New York’s revitalised art-rock heroes offered up a short, sweet account of their resulting tour, laid down halfway through on-the-road commitments at the Brooklyn studio built by Jimi Hendrix. Though the hour-plus package offers up vigorous versions of both back catalogue favourites – You Wanted a Hit, Home – through new, future classic cuts – Tonite, Oh Baby – it’s the three cover tracks that help elevate it into something special, bookended by renditions from two Sheffield stalwarts in The Human League’s Seconds and Heaven 17’s (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, along with a euphoric romp through Chic’s I Want Your Love. Absolute bliss.

Gig of the year

Garbage at O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds on July 15

For a lean, mean, all-killer no-filler affair, there was little to contest in West Yorkshire this summer with the veteran Wisconsin alt-grunge heroes’ performance at the O2 Academy Leeds. Trimmed back from their recent retrospective album shows, this taut ninety-minute showcase had the unusual effect of even rarer B-side cuts – like 2015’s On Fire – up to the appreciative level of the big hits, led by the brilliance and bombast of Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains. Scottish-born frontwoman Shirley Manson remains one of the best in the game, continuing to put new peers to shame with her stage presence; when either hollering, howling or wrapping her voice around a poison-tipped lyric, she gave this group an utterly magnetic presence.

JENESSA WILLIAMS

Album of the year

Loyle Carner – Not Waving But Drowning (Virgin)

In yet another year of Brexit bickering and socio-political marginalisation, Loyle Carner’s exploration of what it means to be mixed race feels particularly pertinent on ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. He’s never claimed to speak of anything but his own truths, but it pays off here in a way that feels particularly intimate and relatable to twenty-somethings – moving out of his beloved mothers home to be with his partner, patching things up with an old friend, reflecting on his own mental health and sense of place in multicultural Britain. In other hands, these themes could feel uncomfortable, but underpinned by his lo-fi, unassuming rap tone, and a knack for picking out a soothing guest vocalist (Jorja Smith, Sampha), Not Waving… proves that vulnerability often wins.

Gig of the year

Jamila Woods at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds on November 9

Often the best gigs are not by the artists that you know intimately, but the ones that convert you from a casual listener to a committed fan. Jamila Woods’s may album ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!’ did immensely well critically thanks to it’s gripping blend of political anger and spirited-but-soothing R&B, but it truly came to life in a concert setting, flanked by one of the most impressive live bands (particularly drums) that I have seen in any genre in the last decade. Chaos at a gig can be very cathartic, but sometimes you need a dose of slick showwomanship, and Woods has that in spades.

TOM NEWTON

Album of the year

Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking (Heavenly)

Sometime member of Queens of the Stone Age and lead singer of Gutter Twins and Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan has an impressive catalogue of music to delve into. His latest solo album Somebody’s Knocking, sees Lanegan move away from the more doom-laden desert-rock of some of his discography, and into an 80s-styled New Order synth based direction that to me has been one of the sleeper albums of the year. Stand-out tracks, Night Flight To Kabul, Dark Disco Jag and Playing Nero are all seeped in dark gothic undertones and his trademark scratchy baritone vocals. One not to miss when he plays the Brudenell Social Club next year.

Ceschi – Sad, Fat Luck/Sans Soleil (Fake Four Inc)

Ceschi Ramos may not be particularly well known in the UK, however all that is set to change when he hits Leeds next year. Two parts of a yet to be completed three album trilogy, Sad, Fat Luck and Sans Soleil have been on constant rotation for me this year. Eschewing the standard hip-hop production tropes, Ceschi and producer Factor Chandelier have created a sonic palette of lightening speed rap, acoustic spoken-word and bombastic beats that channel everything from TV On The Radio, through to Lightspeed Champion and Saul Williams. A diverse and well crafted pairing of albums that call back between tracks and self reference elements from both. An often stark and mournful album, dealing with loss and youth, life and love and a spectrum of feelings that most generic materialistic hip-hop albums fail to. Be sure to keep your eyes open for his upcoming gig in Leeds in 2020.

SUSAN DARLINGTON

Album of the year

Angel Olsen – All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)

Angel Olsen’s fourth album marks another major evolution in sound. Having emerged in 2012 with sparse country music, All Mirrors is defined by the presence of a 14-piece orchestra.

Completely integrated into the material, the string arrangements have an ambition that’s pushed her vibrato to new heights of emotional power. Taking vintage sounds and making them her own, the album is full of swirling violins and wall of sound percussion.

Far from being retro country goes Phil Spector, however, the material merges the familiar with contemporary synth sounds to sometimes disconcerting but always passionate effect.

Gig of the year

Stella Donnelly at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, May 2

Stella Donnelly chimed perfectly with the #TimesUp movement. The Perth-based musician has got songs that address victim blaming and sexual assault, and she issues a content warning before playing material that features sensitive content.

Yet while unafraid of tackling difficult subjects, she used humour rather than confrontation to charm the audience. Ad libbing an apology to her mother after singing about a vibrator, she also performed a light-hearted dance routine, and generated camp-fire warmth with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

Fighting injustices with a sense of humour, the gig offered hope that the future is in safe hands.

JANNE OINONEN

Album of the year

Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving (Leaf Label)

There have been traces of Indian music on jazz-orientated records before. Classically trained in both jazz and Indian music, Sarathy Korwar achieved a genuinely seamless union of the two musical languages on his second album (released by esteemed Leeds label Leaf), whilst also drawing from reggae, offering the most compelling fusion of hip-hop and jazz since the Blue Note-sampling early 90s, and reviving the radical politics of 70s funky avant-jazz.

A hypnotic, rhythmically rich album that pulsates with rich traces of diverse musical traditions and righteous anger at proponents of borders and walls to separate us, the result is one of the most compelling and unique records to result from the ongoing jazz revival.

Runners-up: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen; Hiss Golden Messenger – Terms of Surrender; 75 Dollar Bill – I Was Real; Michael Chapman – True North

Gig of the year

K-X-P @ The Golden Lion, Todmorden, May 3

Austere and hypnotic, K-X-P’s 2019 album IV unveiled the most richly rewarding incarnation of the ever-evolving Finnish group’s ‘electrocknica’ sound. This pounding set made the album sound like a rough sketch of the band’s full potency.
Dressed in black robes and occupying a stage entirely submerged in smoke, the duo cultivated a dense, minimalist drone that soon bloomed into a resistance-battering barrage of elemental beat-building while the visuals at the back of the stage built into a truly disorientating spectacle.
Song titles and verses and choruses really didn’t matter: K-X-P demonstrated peerless skills in building and steadily intensifying an unstoppable momentum that only relented when it was time to send the happy audience grinning into the Todmorden night.

ANTHONY LONGSTAFF

Gig of the year

Ghost at First Direct Arena, Leeds on November 23

2019 has been a long old year especially when my highlight gig was just about the last gig I attended. Having been waiting all year, the band, Ghost finally came around to playing at Leeds arena to much anticipation. They have long been a favourite of mine and I’ve watched the band go through the motions of filling very small event spaces to selling out arena gigs. Their stupendous sounds of monster rock electrified the venue bringing an eerie ambience with a slight comic edge. The cardinal and the ghouls have stamped their ethereal being magic all over West Yorkshire.

Totally outstanding gig which infuses my love of live music even more.

NEIL SHORT

Gig of the year

Black Star Riders at O2 Academy Leeds on October 26

Over the years, I have been to so many shows that I have lost count of the exact number, but as each year goes by, I seem to discover another live performance that seems to top everything else I have ever seen or heard. 2019 was no different in that respect.

Black Star Riders played the O2 Academy back in October this year, and had support from Wayward Sons and Stone Broken. I discovered the band of the year (for me anyways) at that show: Stone Broken. They have an immensely huge sound for a relatively small band, but are breaking through all over the UK and fast becoming the ones to watch for the next year or so. If you get a chance to listen to them on Spotify, or even get to a show, you absolutely should.