Billie, Stella, Tyler + more: Inside 2019's Best Albums, So Far
With the calendar ticking over into July, we enter the second half of 2019 off the back of six months of very good music.
It's only July, but 2019 has already delivered when it comes to the album format. Within the first six months of a year, the sounds and artists that'll define the rest of the often becomes clear-cut, and the heavyweights make themselves known. In 2019, while some artists have stepped forward with remarkable debut albums or long-awaited returns, it's apparent that boundaries are becoming blurred, and more and more artists are sharing the spotlight. As a result, the first half of the year thus far is crowded with top-tier talent from near and afar, encompassing a wide array of sounds, looks and styles.
Moving into July and therefore, toppling over into the second half of 2019, it feels like a good time to sit down and reflect on music's big releases of the year and work out which ones have actually come to define a time so full of defining albums. Included in the 15, full-length records below, are albums which we think stood tall amongst the rest for their own, unique reasons. Within, there are debut albums from artists blossoming into the next big thing; Billie Eilish, Stella Donnelly, Hayden James and Hatchie amongst the Australian-dominant list. There are also a tonne of big names making big returns, or names that with their new albums, stepped forward to usher in new eras - Flume, James Blake, Lizzo and Tyler, The Creator, for example.
Take a trip into 2019's best albums so far - in alphabetical order - below:
Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
It's hard to find an artist as dominant in 2019 as Billie Eilish. You could've picked her rise back when she debuted in 2016 (like we did, with Ocean Eyes), but over the past two years particularly, she's grown and evolved into a versatile, teenage superstar, encapturing the sounds of the younger generation as she swerves between up-tempo club-pop and tender, romantic ballads. Her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? brings this all into a rich, 14-track introduction to Billie as a layered, multi-faceted musician, with her and her brother Finneas (himself a musician with his own project) capturing her humour, fierceness and best of all, musical talent, in an exploration of one of the next generation's most incredible people.
Ceres - We Are A Team
If you were to tell us this time last year that 2019 would see one of Australia's premiere emo-rock bands, Ceres, with an album about romance and positivity, we would've thought you were joking. However, Tom Lanyon and the rest of his Melbourne ensemble did exactly that with their third album We Are A Team, and even better, they did a bloody great job of it. After years of sadness, hopelessness and deeply-entrenched disdain for the world, We Are A Team sees Ceres step out the other side with something special; a journey of positivity bookmarked at the start by the touching Viv in the Front Seat - the shimmering rock ballad that showed Lanyon - and the rest of Australia - that a happy Ceres, is an incredible Ceres.
Cub Sport - Cub Sport
On their self-titled third album, Cub Sport are free enough to be themselves. While their 2016's This Is Our Vice tackled the confusion of teenagehood and growing up, and their 2017 sophomore BATS began to spotlight the band's queerness (particularly that of frontman Tim Nelson, and his now-husband and keyboardist Sam Netterfield), their third album sees them flourish without distractions; the boundlessness of their lives - happy, in love, and finding inner-peace after years of navigating confusing feelings and queerness - inspires a record that'll pick you up and elevate you. It's a moment of electronic-infused pop triumph - tall-standing vocals, thick hooks, strong synth rhythms - and one that deepens their "more love, less fear" mantra, pushing Cub Sport into the forefront of an inspiring lifetime as a band.
Flume - Hi This Is Flume
After the success he found in pop music, many thought Flume would never go back to the quirky experimentalism of his debut album. Why would he? Skin, his long-anticipated 2016 sophomore record blew him up into an electronic heavyweight internationally, winning GRAMMY Awards and topping festival line-ups as he rose. Hi This Is Flume - a surprise mixtape released with a day's warning - defied the route many thought he'd go, pinpointing the soft experimentalism found in Skin's most left-field moments and fleshing them out into a collaborative victory lap, enlisting up-and-comers à la JPEGMafia and slowthai for a versatile, production-dominated display of his songwriting prowress and, if nothing else, a reminder to never place Flume in a box.
Hatchie - Keepsake
When she initially caught on as a quirky dream-pop artist presenting something new to the Brisbane indie scene, it was hard to gauge exactly where Hatchie would go. Her early work, encompassed on her 2018 debut EP Sugar & Spice, was accessible enough to break through into what's perhaps the mainstream of the alt-indie world, but many sporting similar sounds have wound up to stay underground favourites, never quite breaking through their initial market. What set Hatchie apart, was her debut album Keepsake - ten tracks of Hatchie's guitar-backed haziness reinterpreted and fleshed out into many different forms, from the upbeat grooves of Stay With Me - which at times, almost feels like an indie Kylie number - to the soft vulnerability to if its middle moments.
Hayden James - Between Us
As a one-time club favourite turned master of accessible electro-pop singles, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where Hayden James would go with his debut album Between Us - one a very, very long time in the making. Would he go into experimentalism and offer something completely unexpected? Or, would he offer something A&R-built and destined for commercial success - even at the cost of watering down his sound? As it turned out, Between Us almost sat somewhere in the middle, but by capturing the best bits of both sides - versatile, distinctly-Hayden James-but-sometimes-something-different productions and strong hooks with great collaborators - Hayden James basically ensured his longevity as an Australian favourite with his debut, while also offering something to a US audience now finally catching up.
James Blake - Assume Form
As one of electronic's strongest songwriters and hip-hop's most gifted - and in-demand - collaborators, it makes sense that James Blake's returning album Assume Form would sit somewhere in the middle. While his last record - the intensely-critically acclaimed The Colour In Anything - was largely left free of collaboration, Assume Form highlights James Blake's skillset as a collaborator without watering down his distinct soundscape, offering moments both tender and trademark James Blake, like its album-opener of the same name, side by side with quirky, unexpected twists that capture some of 2019's biggest stars - Travis Scott, ROSALÍA - right next to the classic André 3000.
Julia Jacklin - Crushing
No able quite describes Julia Jacklin's second album better than its own title - Crushing. Across ten tracks, Julia Jacklin offers one of the decade's most intimate and vulnerable records with her sophomore album, collecting her thoughts after a relationship's eventual end and the confusing messiness that follows - the highs, lows, and middles packaged within the strumming guitar and subtle minimalism that makes Crushing all the more impactful. It's a masterclass on what happens when an artist opens up through songwriting. It's deeply personal and reflective for Julia Jacklin (which you can feel through its haunting presence), but songs like the intense masterpiece Don't Know How To Keep Loving You offer relatability and warmth you couldn't find in an artist fabricating storylines for songwriting - and that's what makes Crushing stand out.
Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
If there's one artist who captures the positivity needed to triumph through 2019, it's Lizzo. Although she's a been a cult favourite for a while now, her 2019 record Cuz I Love You see her blossom into an international heavyweight in pop music, personifying the "fuck it, we're done with this life" mood that so many of us hold in one, bubbly and self-affirming flutist who yes, can play the flute then hit the shoot. For so many, Lizzo is able to offer a sense of relief on her new album, and one listen will show you how. It's addictively fun and light-hearted, from the humour-filled lyrics ("Somebody come get this man / I think he got lost in my DMs," she sings on album-favourite Juice) to the foot-stomping production and Missy Elliott feature which together, as her social media bio suggests, sets her up perfect as the world's next bop star.
Mark Ronson - Late Night Feelings
Every time Mark Ronson attempts the album format, he brings something new. There have been interpretations of UK classics (i.e. the Valerie-featuring Version), quirky indie-pop with the Business Intl on Record Collection, dizzying, old-school funk on Uptown Special and more, but his new one - Late Night Feelings - feels the most certain of itself. Spanning 13 songs, each with its own, female vocalist, Late Night Feelings is an extension on the upbeat 'sad-bangers' sound defined by names like Robyn, pairing some of music's most exciting names - King Princess, Camila Cabello, Lykke Li, Miley Cyrus, Angel Olsen and the list goes on - with vulnerable lyrics and bright, dancefloor-ready productions that ooze with that signature Mark Ronson swagger and his indescribable perfect touch.
Methyl Ethel - Triage
After the runaway success of their second album Everything Is Forgotten, the world was Methyl Ethel's oyster - they just had to capitalise on it. On Triage, the Perth band's third album, Jake Webb - joined by the rest of Methyl Ethel only on stage - creates a disconnected world full of throwbacks and creativity, whether it be through the thick layers of album break-out Scream Whole or the back-and-forth melodies on Real Tight - which emerges one of 2019's catchiest songs without a chorus. With a tight, only-nine-track duration, Triage offers little room for breathful fillers. Instead, it's focused and determined, with Webb's pin-pointed rhythms and knack for perfection on display through one of the year's best local records.
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats - Anger Management
What happens when you put 2018's break-out rap star together with one of the most in-demand hip-hop producers on the planet? 18 minutes of 2019's best rap music - quick-paced, raw, and wrecking a path to success. Anger Management sees Nasty rising star Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats - formerly one-half of trap duo LOUDPVCK and now-producer for Vince Staples, JPEGMafia and more - team up for a masterclass in Rico's unique rap snarl, with clanging productions occasionally aided by fellow trap music heavyweight Baauer meeting Rico's focused, but light-hearted pace which on Anger Management, feels as dominant as ever. Just try and not get swept up in the fun energy of its break-out track, Big Titties.
Solange - When I Get Home
It's hard to find an album as critically acclaimed in 2016 than Solange's A Seat at the Table, which after the glistening daze of her break-out album True, placed Solange at the forefront of contemporary R&B and soul. Her long-awaited, surprise-released return, When I Get Home, is contrastingly lighter and more relaxed, but it's still 39 minutes of sprawling R&B and soul that enlists some of the genre's visionaries and defining names. Above chopped-and-screwed percussion and heavy jazz influences, Solange feels almost-angelic on When I Get Home; her voice flawless as she sways and floats through lyricism on black solidarity and excellence (Almeda), blessing each production with her heavenly echoes.
Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs
Even before the release of her 2017 debut EP Thrush Metal, Stella Donnelly was a Perth favourite. However, in the time since - particularly emphasised by the release of her debut album Beware of the Dogs this year - she's grown to become an international hit, performing across the US and Europe amongst sold-out headline shows and Maggie Rogers support slots back home, pushing into the limelight by the charming hits of her debut. Beware of the Dogs sounds nice and colourful, but underneath it's political and rich with Stella's trademark lyricism, taking on rape culture and the #MeToo wave through the entertainment industry by hiding it underneath humorous metaphors and sun-soaked melodies that continue to make Stella one of our best.
Tyler, The Creator - IGOR
One of the most fascinating artist evolutions over the years has to be that of Tyler, The Creator. Throughout his long, genre-spanning discography, the US rapper has moved from a controversy-attracted founding member of rap collective Odd Future to a rap visionary incomparable in creativity and forward-thinkingness, something his latest album and Flower Boy follow-up IGOR locks into place. It's 12 tracks at Tyler, The Creator at his best, mixing elements of R&B, rap and funk with his signature precision for an album built around a love triangle involving Igor - the album's character namesake. It's thrilling and masterful in every way, and with no signs of slowing down, it's not surprising to see Tyler move into hip-hop's greats as he continues to experiment and evolve as a person and as a musician.
To keep up to date with our favourite releases in the second half of 2019, follow our Office Playlist on Spotify - refreshed weekly, but always full of hits.