As we bid adieu to 2019, an incredible year for music, we look back at our personal favorite records of the year. Who knows, you may discover something incredible that you haven't heard yet.
CLARENCE CHAN, FOUNDER
Kanye West – Jesus is King
As a fellow follower of Jesus, Kanye's Jesus is King was a surprise and breath of fresh air. I grew up loving the depth and soulfulness of a gospel choir- Kirk Franklin, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and the likes. So to see Kanye harness all that vocal prowess, add his distinctive lyrical prose and intelligent use of sampling, was intriguing.
'Every Hour' gives an early forewarning of the newfound energy of West, and he both preaches as he does shed insight on his own faith journey throughout the album. "He told me "It ain't Christ-like, but nobody never tell you when you're being like Christ" - 'Follow God'.
Over the years, I've heard doses of gospel in his work and wish it had more. I still remember watching him walk out on stage at Fort Canning Park in a neon pink suit and pitch black sunglasses, going hard for 2 hours, sweating profusely in the sweltering Singapore heat and not missing a lyric nor a beat. I've been a fan since and it's nice to know in Jesus is King, Kanye continued keeping his breath, just with a bigger dose of Jesus.
Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
Been a fan since her debut album where I was blown away by the title track. A Chicago native, similar to West, Jamila delivers an album with so much cultural weight and lyrical depth.
As a poet and graduate in Africana studies, each song is an interpretation through the lens of an iconic black artist. In MUDDY, inspired blues by legend Muddy Waters, she tackles themes of empowerment in the face of racial bias. In MILES, she explores the contrasting use of feminine softness with masculine power, through the life of Jazz King Miles Davis. She questions other weighty topics like slavery, sensuality, dreams.
All this over a sonically interesting blend of jazz, neo-soul, fuzzy beats. Each song has its distinct identity yet intertwined by her gnarly vocals that keep them firmly in check.
Moonchild – Little Ghost
One of my secret finds of 2019. I use "secret" because no one I have mentioned them to seems to know them. Yet everyone who listens always leaves impressed.
This LA trio of multi-instrumentalists (vocals, synth bass, flute, alto sax, guitar and more) find a great balance with roots of neo-soul that doesn't sound too indulgent, with tinges of free spirited Jazz you hear from the likes of Kamasi Washington, with the R&B goodness of acts like The Internet. Both of whom they've toured with, by the way.
Amber's vocals float over the grooves with a softness and understated fashion that makes this record truly special. Aspiring to take listeners on a celestial journey, Little Ghost peeks out of the closet and whips you off your feet for that magic carpet ride you've always dreamed of.
MARIANNE CHANG, HEAD OF BUSINESS
Lana Del Ray – Norman F***ing Rockwell
With that innocuously lazy warm drawl that wraps you up in an embrace reminiscent of Video Games, but not quite, Lana Del Rey has done it again. As she sings on Mariners Apartment Complex, the second track on the album “think about it, the darkness, the deepness / all the things that make me who I am”, it’s all the things that make her who she is that have allowed her to create an album so woozy and beautifully twisted in all the right places.
One of the rare few albums I found myself sitting though without an itch to click “next”, every track from start to end was a short story told in itself - of heartache, love, confusion and life – that was tied to the larger tapestry of the album in some of the simplest yet most intimate of ways that touches a listener’s soul.
Bon Iver – i,i
A long-awaited gift for me, Justin Vernon’s resurfacing with Bon Iver’s i,i is an exhilirating breath of human-ness into a sound fans are well-acquainted with. Where 22, A Million was a cacophony of synth choruses and auto-tuned voices, i,i is an exciting and surprisingly optimistic presentation of Vernon’s ability to turn sounds and voices into a beautiful modern-day masterpiece. One of my favourites on the album is Hey, Ma, a quietly rousing anthem that blends nostalgia with hurried memories without taking it too far away from life today.
The National – I Am Easy to Find
If you’re a fan of The National, it is easy to find reasons to fall in love with their latest musical hook. With poignant choruses and familiar melodies, the album works best when listened to in entirety and is a welcome and lengthy respite from a Single-heavy audio experience these days.
In comparison to the iconic “Trouble Will Find Me” album, you probably won’t be able to remember single songs on your first listen but that’s the beauty of it – it keeps you coming back for more. With the album built on great musical connections with guest female singers such as Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Gail Ann Dorsey, and Kate Stables, this longest album to date is an enjoyable and not too heavy an experience.
Honourable Mentions: MAGDALENE – FKA twigs | Red Flags – LEW | Compilation Album – ?Te
CAMILLE CASTILLO, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR & COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVE (PHILIPPINES)
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
According to Apple Music, I played Dedicated 523 times this year. Considering the album only came out in November, that says a lot. While EMOTION remains to be my favourite CRJ album, Dedicated comes in second place. The first single, 'Now That I Found You' has a similar euphoric vibe to 2016's 'Cut to the Feeling' (CRJ's best song ever, IMO), but it never quite gets there. Dedicated feels a little too long: 15 tracks in, some songs get lost in the shuffle, but 'Too Much', 'The Sound', 'Party for One', plus the Jack Antonoff collab 'Want You in My Room' are CRJ classics that will have me cry-dancing till the next album comes out.
American Football – LP3
American Football's third album opens with the sounds of bells and a vibraphone (an instrument I only got to know when I was busy trying to look for one for the band's Manila concert last August), and segues into a lush almost-eight-minute track. The record continues with the first of not one, but three collaborations – with Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell, Paramore's Hayley Williams, and Slowdive's Rachel Goswell. More guests appear on the LP3 highlight (and my personal favourite) 'Heir Apparent' in the form of a children's choir singing "Heir Apparent to the throne, the king of all alone". In several interviews, the band confirms the deliberate departure from the iconic house, which they've used in previous albums, and it shows visually and sonically.
Caroline Polachek – Pang
I got into Pang pretty late, but I couldn't stop listening to it since. 'So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings' was my gateway to the album - it's catchy, with a great music video (that choreography!) to go along with it. Diving into the album, I discovered 'Ocean of Tears', 'Hey Big Eyes', and 'Door', but 'Look At Me Now' was the one that hit me the hardest. Thanks, Caroline.
Honourable mentions: Norman F*cking Rockwell – Lana del Rey | Anak Ko – Jay Som | I Am Easy To Find – The National | Deceiver – DIIV | BUBBA – Kaytranada | Fine Line – Harry Styles | Father of the Bride – Vampire Weekend | Self is Universe – Ourselves the Elves | Paradigm Shift EP - half-lit | No Words Left - Lucy Rose
INDRAN P., EDITOR
SAINT JHN – Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs
I didn’t have to wrestle with this: Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs is my album of the year.
Tyler, The Creator, FKA Twigs and Lana Del Rey are amongst the vaunted roster of recurring names in all of 2019's Great Lists – but SAINT JHN didn’t feature in a single one. The former made albums worthy of commemoration; an undeniable brilliance suffuses them all. But this is the one that moved me the most – not academically or didactically but viscerally. The hedonistic epiphanies from the 14-song thrall make for a totalising thesis on how to navigate love at a time when it’s only natural for it to be contorted and eternally just out of reach.
“I imagine if me and a stripper got married, we'd play this at our wedding reception,” JHN revealed to Apple Music about Ghetto Lenny’s genesis. The songs operate on a dialectic of beauty and desolation: The beat is the pendulum and the energy that makes it swing is his tortured and torturous spirit, both glowingly sacred and savagely profane: “She Alabama ratchet, but she perfect right”.
It’s not supposed to be this dark, but, sometimes, it just is.
Young Thug – So Much Fun
“This is history in the makin', homie” – Young Thug is proof that you can move the needle and exude a biblical level of self-awareness while you’re at it. And that line isn’t even from his reputation-defining, arc-cresting 2019 full-length kiss-off So Much Fun but from last year’s Camila Cabello vehicle ‘Havana’. His assist on the song counts as a peace offering to the safety-hugging mainstream which has long denied him the embrace it has granted his contemporary colleagues Future, the Migos and Travis Scott. But the single was also prophetic: It heralded the most public and accessible guise Thugger has ever adopted on a long form release.
So Much Fun accomplishes the masterstroke of squaring the circle of his sui generis personality within the cosmos of upper-echelon woofer-stretching rap. His door-kicking instrument, that superlatively elastic voice, contorts into even more unmatchable forms (‘Cartier Gucci Scarf’) over beats worthy of their own standard, both inhering in a mainstream-facing album that couldn’t care less about facing the mainstream.
PUP – Morbid Stuff
Punk, hardcore and emo are different means to the same damn end.
This year, PUP unveiled the most refined way to get there. Morbid Stuff’s 36 minutes is a sustained scream over the most genre-specific but emotionally resounding music to come out of 2019. When people talk about what it means to make an “effective” record, I hope they keep this in high regard – because of its radical sincerity and how it manifests.
The anger that is the default register here isn’t a theatrical crutch that frontman Stefan Babcock relies on for blustery impact. His sing-shouts come from a deeply poignant place, as do the band’s delightfully pummelling and melodic revelations. Every song has a plainspoken power that makes lines such as, “I'm not trying to stick it to you / But I've been trying hard getting through to you”, more.
This will be one of the most unintentionally lovely things I’ll take away from this year.
Honorable mentions: IGOR – Tyler, The Creator | Hot Pink – Doja Cat | Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial – Roddy Ricch | Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville | Magdalene – FKA Twigs | Diaspora – Goldlink | City Morgue Volume Two: As Good As Dead – City Morgue
SUREJ SINGH, STAFF WRITER
Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
WANYK showcases Slipknot at its creative peak for the first time since the release of 2004’s Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. While the nine-piece has dabbled with experimentation over the last 15 years, nothing they’ve released has sounded this concise and coherent.
The band channels its inner rage like it did back during the IOWA and self-titled eras through tracks like ‘Birth of the Cruel’, ‘Red Flag’, ‘Orphan’ and standout single ‘Solway Firth’, while adding in fresher elements in the form of ‘Spiders’ and ‘A Liar’s Funeral’. For a band that has suffered through hardship after hardship, they've finally realised that it's at its best when it's purging and spewing hate and pain out of its system.
WANYK is the band turning negatives into positives, and coming out firing on all cylinders. As they traverse multiple sonic textures, the nine find themselves in uncharted territory; one that undoubtedly showcases just how well Slipknot has aged since ’99.
Baroness – Gold & Grey
Baroness has had the odds stacked against them for as long as I can remember. From surviving a horrific bus crash that led to core members leaving, to multiple line-up changes, and physical therapy sessions, Baroness has been through a lot, so it would’ve been completely understandable if the band put out an album that wasn’t all that great.
Instead, the band channeled its focus into creating a record that would be more than worthy of closing out its beloved chromatic series. While Gold & Grey isn’t perfect – the production on the record is astoundingly atrocious at points – John Baizley’s creativity shines through stronger than ever. Newcomer Gina Gleeson pairs up wonderfully with Baizley to create some of the best tracks Baroness has ever written.
Don’t believe me? Check out ‘Front Toward Enemy’, ‘Seasons’ and ‘Tourniquet’. You’re welcome.
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum (Swedish Version)
Thirty years after its formation, Swedish prog metal titans Opeth have finally released an album in its native tongue. Diehard fans have been clamouring for the band to release a Swedish record for as long as the band has been popular, but we finally have it now, and you know what? It was well worth the wait.
Sometimes, beauty and the true meaning of lyrics get lost in translation, which is exactly why Opeth opted to released In Cauda Venenum in both English and Swedish. While the English version sits comfortably with the rest of Opeth’s incredible releases, there’s something absolutely magical about hearing the record the way it was meant to be heard.
The record isn’t the band’s best, but it is yet another brilliant listen from a band that can seemingly do no wrong.
Honorable mentions: Dedicated – Carly Rae Jepsen | High Highs to Low Lows – Lolo Zouaï | Pang – Caroline Polacheck | Caligula – Lingua Ignota | Turn Off The Lights – Kim Petras | Cuz I Love You – Lizzo | Twin Temple – Twin Temple | Woodland Rites – Green Lung | Infest The Rats’ Nest – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard | Seven Inches of Satanic Panic – Ghost | Love & Decay – Spotlights | ISTANAH – Marijannah | Legacy! Legacy! – Jamila Woods | Bubba – Kaytranada | MAGDALENE – FKA twigs | When I Get Home – Solange | Assume Form – James Blake | House of Sugar – (Sandy) Alex G | Fine Line – Harry Styles | Ginger – BROCKHAMPTON | Outer Peace – Toro y Moi | Hidden History Of The Human Race – Blood Incantation | Kill This Love – BLACKPINK
KARA BODEGON, STAFF WRITER
IV Of Spades - CLAPCLAPCLAP!
CLAPCLAPCLAP! is the kind of album that grows on you. Such is the case for me. When IV Of Spades released their debut record in January, I honestly thought it was just okay. My workmates kept raving about how it's such a great album, but then I didn't really see the spark of it until I saw IV Of Spades live onstage. Everything changed for me from then on. CLAPCLAPCLAP! suddenly became one of the best albums that's been on repeat in my life.
Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?
It all started with a meme. The first time I heard Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy' was with a parody that mashed the song with music from Plants vs Zombies. Still, I didn't really care for it. My fiancé told me I should check out Billie Eilish's songs but I was still all, "Eh, I'm okay", about her. Months later, curiosity struck and I got around to watching Billie's 'When the Party's Over' music video and I was stunned. I told my fiancé I started listening to Billie Eilish and ended up getting that "I told you so" lecture. Oh, boy...
UDD - UDD
This felt like a million years in the making. UDD's fourth studio album was something a lot of us were waiting for. Every year I'd hear them say that they'd be releasing this album "next year" but then it never happened. Until 2019. Finally seeing this out in the world is like a breath of fresh air. It's a good one and I can't wait to start pressuring this band for the release of their next album again.
ELIZABETH LOW, ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER
P!nk - Hurts 2B Human
P!nk is an incredibly underrated yet crucial influence on the modern day cultural zeitgeist. It is no wonder, after 24 years, she still remains one of the most successful artists in the world (her 2018 ‘Beautiful Trauma’ tour was the biggest female tour of the decade). But what makes P!nk stand out from her peers, is the unfiltered honesty she displays through her music. In the age of carefully curated pop personas, P!nk’s authenticity shines through.
While not the most innovative or adventurous of her albums, Hurts 2B Human works more than well because it is arguably her most vulnerable. It feels like after years of rebellion and anger, P!nk has finally come into her own. But this is not to say that the songs are safe or apolitical, as seen from tracks like “Can We Pretend”, where she takes a jab at the current American administration, or the standout “Circle Game”, where she laments about the transience of life and reminisces about her relationship with her father. This album shows a P!nk who knows exactly what she’s doing, proving why, when all her peers seem to have fallen off the radar, she still remains at the top of her game.
Alter Bridge - Walk The Sky
Alter Bridge’s newest album is an effortless yet monumental showcase of the post-grunge quartet’s mastery of their craft. Frontman Myles Kennedy is one of the most instantaneously recognisable and iconic rock voices alive today, and he flourishes, especially on the more melodic tracks. This, paired with Mark Tremonti’s killer guitar riffs that only seem to be getting better over the years, together with Brian Marshall and Scott Phillip’s reliable yet non-formulaic rhythms, makes a substantial case for why we should still be paying attention to rock music today.
From the immediately memorable opening of 'Wouldn’t You Rather', to the soaring vocals in 'Pay No Mind', to the unparalleled guitar work in 'Native Son', Walk the Sky simply goes from strength to strength. While the pulsating rhythms and euphoric choruses may be reminiscent of the band’s Blackbird era, Walk the Sky never falters into the conventional; and judging from how the band seems to have been meticulously working on their craft, it's no surprise that Alter Bridge has once again outdone themselves with this newest edition to their already expansive discography.
Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
Lizzo is what pop music needs today. Although simply calling her a "pop star" would be a severe understatement. The multi-hyphenate star’s first release under a major label is an absolute triumph, and it is refreshing to listen to someone be so unapologetically herself, bereft of an ounce of pretense or disingenuity. In this album, she brings her audience on an unadulterated joy ride, with infectious high-energy and adrenaline-pumping tracks.
From the feminist anthem 'Like a Girl', where she chants, “Look, so if you fight like a girl, cry like a girl, do your thing, run the whole damn world”, to 'Jerome', where she croons and lets loose about an ex-lover, Lizzo shows that no single genre of music can contain her. She effortlessly switches from hip-hop, to R&B, to soul, to pop and often blends different genres together in a single track. Cuz I Love You proves that heavily produced music does not have to be tiresome or cookie-cutter – as long as you do it well. Lizzo has been doing this for years, and I’m glad the world is finally taking notice.
Beyond Mediocrity – 9m88 | When I Get Home – Solange | MAGDALENE – FKA Twigs | A Different Kind of Human (Step 2) – AURORA | IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
NICHOLAS WONG, EVENTS LEAD
Baroness - Gold & Grey
For the longest time, I never got Baroness because I always thought I was supposed to be listening to a metal band. Listening to their discography in chronological order made it clear to me that Baroness is way more than a metal band or a rock band. Once I understood the impressive sonic progression of the band after listening through their discography in chronological order, the intelligence in their genre-bending songwriting became clear. A step-up from their previous efforts with Purple, Gold & Grey is far from a conventional metal or rock album and Baroness has created something groundbreaking with this.
Drab Majesty - Modern Mirror
Not much of a change from their previous record The Continuation, Drab Majesty delivers exactly what their fans want, which is what they do best. Combining the ethereality of dream pop, Depeche Mode-esque baritone vocals and overwhelming '80s new wave synths, drowned inside a tub of reverb, the band has unveiled a unique brand of dark wave. This is a flawless album from start to finish.
Sunn 0))) - Life Metal
It’s distortion and feedback and dread for 68 minutes and I listen to this a lot at work.
Honourable mentions: Seven Inches of Satanic Panic – Ghost | Invocation of Doom – Doldrey | The Avhath Rites – Avanth | Portrait In Silver – Night Sins | Twin Temple – Twin Temple | Love & Decay – Spotlights | Dedicated – Carly Rae Jepsen
CELIA ONG, EDITORIAL INTERN
Cosmic Boy – Can I Love ?
If ever asked what the sonic manifestation of love is, this album would be my response.
With an unrivalled ethereality and saccharine-tinged purity, the record does not attempt to impress, only move. Without trespassing into schmaltz, Can I Love ? lays bare a scintillating and unpretentious mosaic of sound that contains multitudes, yet unravels the concept of love into an uncontaminated singularity that cannot be questioned.
Tenderly and exquisitely, it blooms outward and manifests in a whimsical soundscape with ‘Love’, utterly otherworldly, lulling us into a dimension where its namesake is the only truth. From then on, we waltz, dazed and aching, to rippling synth keys, breathy 808s and reverb-laced coos. In this lucid dream, we find an affirmative answer to the question that this record opens with, as we bask in the light that is love itself.
Giriboy – Fatal Album III
Giriboy always makes everything appear and sound easy. In his music, melancholy masquerades as nonchalance, love hides in the mundanity of the everyday, and the unravelling of love disguises its bitterness with banal occurrences. Always experimental, he has not ceased in his fervent fluidity, continually adding to his expansive discography with tracks that nudge at the boundaries of hip-hop, bleeding into melodic R&B, electronic and pop.
On his seventh studio album, he builds a bridge to his debut album series Fatal Album. While "poignant" is not a word I would usually use to describe Giriboy’s music, this record comes the closest to that. Here, while still marked by his characteristic laid-back style, everything is tinged with a greater profundity and introspection. The messages in the songs weigh heavier, the melancholy a little denser, as we meander alongside his stream-of-consciousness and occasionally cryptic storytelling. As the record unfurls, the fog lifts and it traverses into lighter, more exuberant territory. When the 11-tracker comes to an end, I once again stand in awe of his musical growth, at its breadth and depth. A truism stands firm: His philosophy in music-making that grounds itself in “fun” has never given way to frivolity and instead, has continuously elevated the potential of his craft.
9m88 – Above Mediocrity 平庸之上
9m88’s propulsion into wider consciousness has been simmering for a long time. When she fully burst into the ether this year with her debut album, it was almost revolutionary and utterly deserving. Filling a void that no one was truly conscious of before, she epitomises a post-modern, almost avant-garde quirkiness in aesthetic and sound, blending vintage visual sensibilities and an eclectic fusion of jazz, soul and hip-hop.
With an undeniable magnetism, Above Mediocrity, a record that expertly walks the tightrope that separates palatable and pretentious, is not only intriguing but utterly convincing. 9m88 melds her enigmatic persona and musical prowess into an indistinguishable unit, easily skirting across cheeky, flirtatious and dignified sentiments over the 10 tracks while skilfully delivering the technicalities of jazz.
Honourable mentions: Where There’s Light, 有多少光就有多少黑 – Crispy脆乐团 | I Know – SURL | THINKING Part.1 – Zico | 5 am – Julia Wu | Urban Fiction Select 城市小說選集 – Sweet John | Weathering With You – RADWIMPS | City Lights – Baekhyun | THIRSTY – The Black Skirts
NUR FARISAH, DESIGN INTERN
Lucky Daye – PAINTED
PAINTED got me in feels I never thought I had. I was never one who romanticised the idea of being hopelessly in love with someone but this album made me feel like a walking contradiction. The moment the sweet, dreamy melody for 'Roll Some More' played, it took me on an imaginary life where me and Lucky own a beach house in the Caribbean, and are in love that the concept of time doesn’t exist.
His soulful and charismatic voice got me melting like a popsicle on a hot Sunday afternoon, because as you dive deeper into the album, you’d realise that every ending on the track would be the beginning to the next one (it's all in the details!). The smooth transition from one track to the next will get you so enthralled that you wouldn’t even come to the realisation that the whole album has ended.
On PAINTED, Lucky definitely showed his renegade spirit with his heart on his sleeve and what the R&B scene is currently missing: That butterflies-in-your-gut, giddy-in-love feeling instead of just getting under the sheets. Each song on this record is a different colour and stroke on an empty canvas but by the end of it – a masterpiece is born.
Beast Coast – Escape From New York
“I’m a rubber band man, so I always bounce back” – this line in 'Rubberband' in particular from Zombie Juice caught my attention and I’d like to thank him for it because I can’t seem to get it out of my head for all the right reasons. It was truly an eye-opener. Escape From New York is the album that helped me get through my darkest days this year.
Beast Coast features members from Flatbush Zombies, several members from Pro Era and the Underachievers. Escape From New York is filled with inspirational takeaways after each track on the album as they discuss their humble beginnings, life challenges and privileged lifestyles they live as a result. Each member brings a different flavour to the table. For example: Meechy Darko with his gritty, aggressive flow and let's not forget how low and deep his voice is that it’ll urge you to pull the stankiest face in public without any shame to a head-swaying Jamaican flow from CJ Fly.
This is what makes it unique to me: An eclectic blend of individual, creative approaches yet everyone’s distinct styles complement one another. Their camaraderie is evident in this album and listening to it makes me feel like we have this tight bond even though I know they are not aware of my existence in the slightest.
Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
Slowthai is causing quite a stir in the UK for being unapologetically loud with his political views and beliefs while being brave enough to express it on live award shows, festivals and radio interviews. Just like his distinct form of belligerent protest performances on stage, his debut album Nothing Great About Britain is no less attention-grabbing. It is out there for you to see what he has got to say that could possibly make you laugh and go, “Gah damn!”, the same reaction when you watch someone get roasted/dissed badly during rap battles.
This album made me want to lace up my Doc Marten boots, run to the nearest pub and get potentially kicked out for yelling at everyone how crazy the world we live in has become. That true punk “spit-in-your-face” attitude that is extremely rare to find especially in the hip-hop scene puts Slowthai in his own lane. The tracks on this album explore the toxic politics, current social issues of UK and his challenging upbringing on a council estate in Northampton. If I have to sum up this album in three words, it’ll be “Somber”, “Gutsy” and “Inspiring”.
It has taught me that we all have sadness buried in us, and it’s impossible to get rid of it all. It’s okay to be sad, just don’t be burdened every day by holding onto all your sorrows. It’ll feel weird and scary letting go, but it’ll be good. “You can't have a rainbow without a little rain though” from a track titled 'Rainbow' has become my favourite line from Mr Anarchist himself as I hold onto it dearly when life decides to throw me durians instead of the usual lemons.
Honourable Mentions: Ventura – Anderson .Paak | Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville | The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae | Ginger – Brockhampton | Twothousand Nakteen – Na-Kel Smith | Injury Reserve – Injury Reserve | African Giant – Burna Boy | MCID – Highly Suspects | Diaspora – Goldlink | Psychodrama – Dave | All My Heroes Are Cornballs – JPEGMAFIA | Mirrorland – Earthgang | Bubba – Kaytranada | Grey Area – Little Simz | The Return – Sampa the Great | ERYS – Jaden Smith | WILLOW – Willow Smith | ZUU – Denzel Curry | EMMANUEL – Ameer Vaan | Cashmere Tears – Kojey Radical | FOTO – Kota the Friend
PB HERMOSO, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Thom Yorke – ANIMA
While listening to this album, I read that Thom Yorke produced it as he slowly overcame fears such as writer's block. It felt like a self-awakening and sudden realization – but in musical format – that the best method to moving forward is metaphorically stepping out of your home and taking in the scene.
Epik High – Sleepless In _______
This year started with a grand collaboration of Epik High with several musicians who've worked around different musical genres. It's a taste of midnight thoughts, unending rain, and a soothing track for cats. The EP represents the past, present, and near future of the group as it unfolds their dynamic as a contributor in a community.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
It's simple: If there was one party we needed to throw every year, it would be with Carly Rae Jepsen. This masterpiece was the invitation, main event, and after-party we deserved.
GINNY PALMA, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR (PHILIPPINES)
Harry Styles – Fine Line
Where his eponymous album had allowed this boyband-member-turned-solo-artist to explore genres following the music he personally admired, Fine Line is a more cohesive album that showcases a more refined and clearly defined Harry Styles. He's cheeky, sensitive; he wants to be a rock star and genuinely aims to be a man for everyone; and, ultimately, he's still growing. I'm here for all that.
Bump of Chicken – Aurora Arc
BUMP OF CHICKEN is my favorite Japanese rock band of all time, but it's been a while since an album of theirs has overwhelmed me with feelings like Yggdrasil (2004) and Orbital Period (2007) had. With aurora arc, they finally brought a good deal of those feelings back into light. Not so much the heart-wrenching tears this time, but the soaring flame is surely there in tracks like '月虹' (Gekkou/Moonbow), '新世界' (Shin Sekai/New World), and '記念撮影' (Kinen Satsuei/Commemorative Photograph). Unsurprisingly, these are singles used for anime collaborations. Maybe its strong appeal is partly because it contains a collection of hit singles amassed in about three-and-a-half years, but compared to previous ones, aurora arc actually feels a little more coherent as an album and I've found myself losing myself in it repeatedly since it came out.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
Dedicated continues to show that Carly Rae Jepsen is the friend we can count on to join us in all our shenanigans in life – heck, she charges right in before us for most of it even, steadily grabbing us by the hand to jump along. Hence, in Emotion and EMOTION SIDE B, she opens our eyes to all the joys of diving into the reckless abandon of youth; in Dedicated, she teaches us to own our truth and never apologise for how our past has honed us and how we choose to move forward. I'd been late to join the church of Queen Carly back in 2015, and it had taken me about a year after to revel in the revelation, but I've been a true believer ever since.
ISA ALMAZAN, CONTRIBUTING WRITER (PHILIPPINES)
Epik High – Sleepless in ______
Listening to Sleepless in __________ almost feels like watching a movie, a narrative for lost souls in a big city. And whether you live in Seoul or in Manila, it asks for you to bask in the loneliness and be comfortable in its company. Their first release since going independent from their former label, the seven-track EP marks the trio’s return to fussless and old-school hip-hop. Suga-produced 'Eternal Sunshine' (새벽에) is an album highlight alongside 'Rain Again Tomorrow' (비가 온대 내일도) both of which showcase how introspection makes for strong musicality.
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Vampire Weekend has entered a new chapter in their career with this album and it shows both in the stylistics and thematics of Father Of The Bride. Rostam's departure must have caused turmoil to the internal dynamic of the band but FOTB features the band settling into a voice that’s unique from their previous albums. Having invited new collaborators in the form of Danielle Haim, Steve Lacy, and Hans Zimmer has lent a distinct sound to the album but above all, FOTB rises above its predecessors because of its settled and less urgent tone. Vampire Weekend is still fatalistic and pessimistic as ever but the sonic lens with which these are presented is sunnier, celebratory, and even wholesomely jangly. This juxtaposition is quite jarring but it’s what makes this album arguably one of the best releases of the year.
Day6 – The Book Of Us: Gravity
Day6 is currently in their peak in terms of songwriting and it shows in their two releases this 2019: Mini album The Book of Us: Gravity and full-length album The Book of Us: Entropy. The five-piece band toyed around with new genres, dipping their toes into funk ('Stop Talking'), samba ('OUCH'), and Brit-pop ('Wanna Go Back') to name a few. But what makes TBOU stand out is how it managed to describe a full arc despite its brevity. The mini-album opens with the lyrics “너는 누구니” (Who are you?). From here on, the album takes the listener through the weight of young adulthood and all the fears that come with it: The fear of vulnerability in 'How To Love', the fear of losing youth in 'Wanna Go Back', and the fear of exposing one’s true self in 'Cover'. With this album, Day6 inadvertently wrote a manual on growing up— a myriad of questions, and while most of them remain unanswered, there’s an assurance in the hook of the anthemic title track 'Time of Our Life', “지금 이 순간이 / 다시 넘겨볼 수 있는 / 한 페이지가 될 수 있게.” It roughly translates to “This moment right now can become a page that we can read back again” which circles back to how every fear and unanswered question builds up and adds on to the person we are headed to become.
YOKE MING, WRITER
AccuseFive – Somewhere In Time, I Love You (告五人 - 我肯定在几百年前就说过爱你）
Taiwanese pop-rock band AccuseFive finally released their first full-length album this year. Titled Somewhere In Time, I Love You, AccuseFive brings the best of Mandopop to their listeners. While the genre is often synonymous with cheesy love ballads, AccuseFive subverts expectations with their unique sounds found in songs like 'Somewhere In Time (爱人错过)' and 'Farewell In The Sea (跳海)', all the while keeping the traditional love-driven messages that people have come to expect with Mandarin music.
Mandopop has long been getting a bad name of being full of acoustic, guitar or piano-driven love songs that do little to challenge the norm. With bands like AccuseFive on the rise, it is exciting to look forward to a new age of Mandopop songs that no longer sound like they were created on the same day with the same instrumentation. As we enter a new decade, AccuseFive is definitely one of the most exciting bands to look out for.
Your Woman Sleep With Others – I Examine Myself Three Times A Day (老王乐队 - 吾日三省吾身)
An amazing band with a truly awful English name. In terms of age, Your Woman Sleep With Others (the band's Mandarin name is a common slang to describe a cuckolded man) is one of the youngest bands to have made their debut in the past few years. Despite this, the band has not let this prevent them from making an immediate impact on the scene. With their debut EP Stolen Childhood in 2017, the band deftly expressed the problems faced by today's youth, from societal pressures to the unnecessary focus on results.
With just three songs released in their first EP, Your Woman Sleep With Others became the voice of the youth in Taiwan, and much attention was placed on them this year for the release of their first full-length album I Examine Myself Three Times A Day. The band did not disappoint, with a full repertoire of songs that continue to impress, this time singing of more "adult" problems, such as the loss of youth in 'Sleepless Nights and Haunting Memories (那些失眠的夜与难以忘怀的事)' and separation in 'Where Is My Ex?(曾经的女人啊 你在哪里 你在哪里)'. This band definitely has the potential to be one of the greatest bands in the next decade, but to go far beyond the Taiwanese market, a change in name may be crucial.
Enno Cheng – Dear Uranus (郑宜农 - 给天王星)
With three solo albums and a successful run as frontwoman of indie rock band Chocolate Tiger, at the young age of 32, Enno Cheng is one of the most prominent figures in the indie scene of Mandarin music. With her latest album Dear Uranus, released late in 2019 in December, she shows us exactly why she deserves her status as a respected veteran in the industry. When she first released her single 'Jade (玉仔的心)' earlier this year, I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed, as the single, while experimental, did not stand out to me compared to her previous work.
Once the full album was released, I immediately fell in love with Enno Cheng's work again. This is one of the few albums released this year that I truly enjoyed every single song from start to finish. While most of the albums in my top of the year list carried an international twist to Mandarin music, this album stands out as one that is extremely representative of Taiwanese music. Songs like 'Thief (贼)' and 'Never Let Me Go (就算我放弃了世界)' are reminiscent of works by other indie veterans like Cheer Chen that bring out the best in this oft-maligned genre, while songs such as the aforementioned 'Jade' and 'At A Rainy Night, Would You Walk Me Home (街仔路雨落袂停)' are even performed in the traditional Taiwanese dialect while retaining a modern outlook. Enno Cheng tends to be very quiet outside of her album release cycle, but when she does have new work to share, she never disappoints.
SUNNIE WANG, WRITER
MC Hotdog – Loser
“There is a kind of hip-hop called MC Hotdog”.
Without dissing, skr-skrs, and complicated rhymes, and regardless of how much he likes to fall back on dated humour, he is still indisputably the godfather and one of the most influential figures in Mandarin hip-hop. He has always stood his ground and has never let the world change him. This imposing album brims with vigour and boldness, even in its love songs. If you are sick of monotonous hip-hop, this record is one that warrants a full listen, and guarantees that listeners will groove along, charged with adrenaline.
Fool and Idiot – Morpheus
Fool and Idiot evokes the confusion and dazedness of our youth in an album that one can listen to repeatedly. With each track, the band illustrates the conflict between dreams and reality and the simple determination which arises from that, showing that the silliest person always makes the bravest choice.
Compilation Album – Where Have All the Flowers Gone
With “family and emotions” as the overarching theme and Masa as the Music Director, the multi-disciplinary “Where Have All The Flowers Gone – These Flowers. Musical Memory & Art Exhibition” sought to evoke memories that have eroded with time, and gave birth to one of the most heart-wrenching albums of 2019.
Honorable mention: Jen Jen – Jen Jen
Many people know of Jen Jen as an actor, but her voice is even more deserving of one’s dedicated attention and appreciation. With her mesmerising croons, Jen Jen skilfully fuses Mandarin, Taiwanese, and even contemporary slang in this album, breaking all boundaries between them. In a very bold attempt, she forlornly, yet almost-satirically, sings about “carrying out love till the very end” in a minor key.