Best albums of 2019: January – March

Turntable Thoughts has been very Asian-centric lately, but that’s not all I listen to. So instead of painting myself into a corner with weekly Japanese/Korean recommendations, I decided to write on my favourite albums that I’ve had the pleasure to listen to this year.

Splitting this series up into quarters and arranging each album according to their release date, this isn’t a ranking of albums but more about me shining a spotlight onto these records.

*Spotify links are in the album titles*


 

James Blake — Assume Form

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Genre: Electronic, R&B

Released: 18 / 01 / 2019

James Blake is 6’5″. How an immense frame like that is able to produce a voice so soft and alluring is one of the world’s greatest mysteries. On his 4th studio album, he elevates not only his vocal performances but also production choices to new heights.

Pulling on collaborators that range from Metro Boomin’ to Rosalía, James’ latest record is an upbeat one that is a far cry from any of his previous efforts. Taking inspiration from trap to flamenco pop, Assume Form is a meticulously crafted album that was designed to translate the feeling of falling in love into a musical medium… and it is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

Future — Future Hndrxx presents: THE WIZRD

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Genre: Rap, Trap

Released: 18 / 01 / 2019

As one of the most prolific figures in trap rap, Future had a relatively quiet 2018, with his sole release being his Zaytoven-collab mixtape — Beast Mode II. So his announcement of THE WIZRD this January was a welcome surprise. Though it’s still more of the same, Future remains as one of the most reliably consistent rappers of the past decade.

Improving upon the classic trap style of his 5th studio album Future and the autotuned crooning of his 6th HndrxxTHE WIZRD is an immaculately blends the best aspects of his prior work and condenses them into a potent dose sorrowful trap rap. Sadness never sounded so turnt.

 

Boogie — Everythings For Sale

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Genre: Rap

Released: 25 / 01 / 2019

Signed to Eminem’s Shady Records, I had major reservations about Boogie’s debut album. The label’s previous signees — Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf first releases under Shady often included misguided attempts at chart success, which did more harm than good when it came to the quality of their records. Fortunately, that problem is nowhere to be found on Everythings For Sale. Tapping into his insecurities and anxieties, Boogie was able to deliver on a debut that’s both intriguing and appealing.

Click here for a full review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next

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Genre: Pop

Released:  08 / 02 / 2019

A mere 5 months after her stellar 5th studio album Sweetener, Ariana Grande came back swinging with follow-up project — Thank U, Next. Its title track debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and with 2nd single “7 Rings” repeating that track’s similar success (and gone on to be her longest #1 hit of her career), Ariana is undoubtedly the leading force of pop music today.

It’s also even more impressive that she’s done this her best body of work to date. Too often do we see artists that experience the peak of their career with records that play it a bit too safe, in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator (*cough* Taylor Swift *cough*). Thank U, Next is thankfully an album that embraces the contemporary trap trends of today while still managing to retain what makes Ariana’s music so compelling in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DaBaby — Baby on Baby

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Genre: Rap, Trap

Released: 01 / 03 / 2019

There are too many rappers in 2019 that have ‘baby’ in their name. 10 years from now, this trend would probably be seen as a brief novelty that was used to gain virality on the internet. So as many of his peers have their longevity questioned, DaBaby presents a strong case on why he may prove to be an exception.

Baby on Baby doesn’t follow the already stale formula of auto-crooning that has been explored to death, rather it’s a bar fest that proves DaBaby has actual heat to support his humorous aesthetic. Reminiscent of the works of Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, DaBaby is a wonderful marriage between old and new, a rapper that’s familiarly fresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Simz — GREY Area

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Genre: Rap

Released: 01 / 03 / 2019

Already being declared as the best rap album of 2019 by many, UK rapper Little Simz’ 3rd studio album is a tour de force of honesty and self-assuredness. After her past experimental efforts with A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons and Stillness in Wonderland, Simz decided to strip herself down and hone in on herself as an artist, resulting in one of the most revealing records that genre has seen in recent memory.

From the impressively varying production to the addictive songwriting to the most core factor that ties everything together — Little Simz herself. Without her impeccable performances on every track here, GREY Area wouldn’t have had the impact that it had on its listeners. It’s a record that establishes Little Simz as a talent that has been overlooked and also one that deserves all your attention.

 

 

 

 

Stella Donnelly — Beware of the Dogs

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Genre: Indie, Singer/Songwriter

Released: 08 / 03 / 2019

Australian-born singer Stella Donelly hails from Perth but her music sounds like it could have been made in a cramped New York basement in the mid-90s. Clearly inspired by the growing American indie folk scene, Beware of the Dogs is one of the most unapologetically candid albums of 2019.

Fierce, funny and full of scathing lyrical gems, the record is a tight and potent record that wastes no time settling down and instantly hitting listeners with blunt lines such as, “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face.” Equally hilarious and harrowing, Stella’s lyricism and captivating voice is a talent that will be celebrated for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave — PSYCHODRAMA

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Genre: Rap

Released: 08 / 03 / 2019

Sitting pretty with a score of 97 on Metacritic, UK rapper Dave’s debut album is undoubtedly one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Though I have my own reservations with its lofty praise, PSYCHODRAMA is still a damn good album that finds him burrowing deep within his experiences, then ripping them all out for his listeners to consume and dissect.

Though the production on the record takes a back seat to Dave’s lyrical odyssey, the sparse and skeletal instrumentals do a fine job of mellowing out the atmosphere, ensuring that Dave himself is the sole attraction. Yet the most affecting song of PSYCHODRAMA isn’t a personal tale, but rather one that’s told from the perspective of a woman in an abusive relationship. The 11-minute “Lesley” is a song that cannot be overlooked and same goes for this album.

 

 

 

Dido — Still on my Mind

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Genre: Pop

Released: 08 / 03 / 2019

Dido is one of the UK’s most iconic singers, with her first 2 albums taking their spots amongst the best selling albums ever in UK chart history. Now 20 years since then, she’s back with a brand new record that proves that she is still as commanding as ever. An album that prides itself on both vulnerability and strength, Still on my Mind is an impressive offering by an ageing titan in a genre that gobbles up and tosses away artists without a second thought.

Her voice still as haunting as ever, Dido croons and lulls her way through the surprisingly contemporary production that embraces current trends in pop, electronic and R&B music. Even at the age of 49, she proves that she’s still more than capable enough to keep up with the younger generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flume — Hi This is Flume (Mixtape)

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Genre: Electronic

Released: 22 / 03 / 2019

Ever since he hit his stride with his 2016 studio album Skin, Flume hasn’t been quite as successful when it comes to recapturing the lighting that got him the critical acclaim with his subsequent projects, which were his two Skin Companion EPs in 2017. 3 years since then, it was prime time for him to stage a comeback, but most people didn’t expect it to come in the form of a surprise mixtape.

Moving away from the dance-influenced production of his prior records, Flume is a lot more experimental on Hi This is Flume. Almost as if he made the record with no external expectations in mind, he was able to craft a record that is undoubtedly his. From the glitchy electronic passages to the wonderfully left-field guest vocalists, Hi This is Flume may be branded as a mixtape but it’s easily one of the best electronic albums I’ve heard in a while.

 

 

 

Billie Eilish — WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

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Genre: Pop

Released: 29 / 03 / 2019

The other big name in pop music at the moment (Hi Ariana), Billie Eilish has taken the music industry by storm with her now-signature brand of dark pop. Though often written off as a one-note character who’s been falsely branded as ‘faux emo’, the 17-year old’s debut album proves that she has more depth than her critics give her credit for.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is a record that is filled with juxtapositions. The production is consistently gloomy and mellow, yet it’s also constantly pierced by rattling bass lines that aren’t uncommon to find in trap music today. Billie’s voice is also soft and almost faint to the point where she blends in with the track’s beat, but her lyricism is raw and affecting; showing maturity well beyond her years.

It’s an exciting debut by one of pop music’s youngest rising talents. The album also sits comfortably as my favourite record of the year so far.

Posted by

Based in Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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