50. Marika Hackman – ‘Any Human Friend’
What We Said…
When we first heard Marika Hackman's sophomore studio album 'I'm Not Your Man' in 2017, we were greeted with a wave of brilliant and poignant tracks that looked to explore the frontwoman's own sexuality as a gay woman trying to navigate the world today. With brutally honest lyrics and a strong and empowering message to other young girls who are looking to feel comfortable in their own skin, the release took her from a fledging young songwriter to one of the UK's most important new talents. Now as she returns with her third studio record 'Any Human Friend', she looks to further delve into this world of queer identity and deliver one of her most engaging collections to date.
But while her previous LP was all about coming to terms with being homosexual, 'Any Human Friends' is all about the fallout from that resolution, mainly what to do when the other half of the couple no longer wants to be in a relationship. But in her true and uncompromising style, Hackman doesn't hold back the raw and sometimes uncomfortable emotions she now feels. Rather than become one of those break up albums filled with sorrow and self-loathing, she takes on the most familiar tropes of losing a loved one like challenging an ex on 'send my love' or finding herself masturbating constantly on 'hand solo'.
And while the topics of this new album remain very much connected to a theme, the record's production takes a far more eclectic approach as she experiments with synth-filled alt-pop as much as lo-fi singer-songwriter aesthetics. Despite its fully formed and enticing nature, 'Any Human Friend' still feels like part of a journey for Marika Hackman. Its solid and exciting intention remain very much part of a musical evolution, as if she still has plenty to give, and given how good this record is, we can only hope that there is plenty more inspiration left in her as she progresses.
49. Tyler, The Creator – ‘IGOR’
What We Said…
Since his early beginnings, the transition that Tyler, The Creator has shown has been one of the most impressive reinventions in the hip-hop scene. Originally marked as a needlessly violent and explicit MC through the guise of his debut LP 'Goblin', he has slowly but surely stripped away the venom and visceral lyrics to become one of the most ear-pleasing and radio-friendly acts working today. And after releasing a string of brief yet brilliant rap singles over the last few months, he has now returned with his sixth studio album 'IGOR', a record that sees him ditch the rapping almost entirely.
It has always been noted that Pharrell Williams has been Tyler's biggest inspiration to become a rapper in the first place. His production on the early N*E*R*D were channeled into plenty of his initial material, but 'IGOR' feels like full-on love letter to his hip-hop hero. Removing much of his usually abrasive prose and replacing the lyrical flow with a more sombre and soulful croon, we are reminded of when Childish Gambino released 'Awaken, My Love', an album that saw the frontman transform himself from a high-octane MC into a thoughtful and provocative singer, and that is almost what we are hearing again here.
And while it may seem like a unusual detour to take, 'IGOR' manages to showcase that brilliantly emotional side of Tyler and give us a more honest and raw interpretation of the frontman's current state of mind. It certainly feels strange when you first switch onto 'IGOR', but after only a few songs, you get so into it, you'll forget that this is something he has never done before.
48. Deerhunter – ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’
What We Said…
Over the years, Deerhunter have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent and imaginative outfits on the planet. Since first emerging with their stunning debut album 'Turn It Up Faggot' back in 2005, the group have found themselves exploring the vast netherworld of psychedelic rock music, bringing together modern recording techniques with a retro aesthetic that helps give them a familiar yet otherworldly sound at times. This still seems to be their mantra as they head into album number eight, 'Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?', a record that cements their sound throughout the years.
From the start, this new full-length gives off the impression of being far older than it actually is. With a mix of hunting synths and an unpolished style, the record could easily have been released back in the 1970s, channelling a more nostalgic influence from artists such as Pink Floyd or The Doors. And much like those kind of artists, the album is this subtle mix of contemporary and wistful psych-rock with a selection of experimental and captivating instrumentals thrown throughout, giving the release this multifaceted angle that forces the listener on their toes and keeping the pace of the release ever moving forward.
Despite releasing so much material over the last decade, the quality of Deerhunter never seems to diminish. 'Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?' is still as exciting to listen to as any of their early work, and helps maintain that high level of constancy the band have always been able to conjure.
47. Swim Deep – ‘Emerald Classics’
What We Said…
It wasn't too long ago that everything was beginning to fall apart for Birmingham's Swim Deep. Despite two positively received albums under their belt, 'Where The Heaven Are We' and 'Mothers', the band were beginning to truly reach their stride, with a subsequent slot at Glastonbury and tour alongside The 1975 building their profile evermore. But with the sudden departure of guitarist Tom Higgins and drummer Zachary Robinson last year, it took a lot of motivation to bring the remaining members back from the brink, and thankfully they did as their third full-length 'Emerald Classics' sees them deliver their most accessible record to date.
Named after their local pub 'The Emerald', where they debated much of their future, 'Emerald Classics' looks to take the foundations they built on their previous releases and deliver a collection that best reflects their reasons for continuing this journey, resulting in a bold and uplifting new album. Opening up with the stunning lead single 'To Feel Good', a reimagining of the 1991 Rozalla hit track 'Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)', gives this record the shot of intrigue and euphoria it needed to succeed, and from there we are treated to a wave of warm and inviting cuts that channel their love of the 80s new wave sound yet remain vividly contemporary throughout.
To think that we may never have had the chance to listen to this new release feels like a great shame, as 'Emerald Classics' manages to see the band soar higher than they have ever done before, through poised and exceptional songwriting. We may not know their current state of mind, but the quality of their return is something wonderful to behold.
46. Sharon Van Etten – ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’
What We Said…
Since first emerging back in 2009 with her debut album 'Because I Was In Love', Sharon Van Etten has always stood as one of the most proficient and engaging storytellers in modern music. Her grip on the world around us and identifiable attitude has always been her muse for creating bold and impassioned releases that look to bring the listener along for the ride. But unlike some of her recent material, especially that on her last full-length 'Are We There', this new release sees her adopt the darker side of her writing and run with it full force to create this brooding yet captivating return.
Opening up with the uncharacteristically minimal 'I Told You Everything', it manages to give a sense of what we can expect moving forward on this new record. From there, it is almost Van Etten by numbers as she meanders through a vast array of thunderous and luxuriously dense singles that add a real sense of grandeur to this collection. With singles like 'Comeback Kid' and 'No One's Easy To Love' acting as the core to this new record's sound, the frontwoman is able to bring her notable songwriting to the front of a bold and exciting production style that allows her to move even further towards the next step in her musical evolution.
While on the surface it may sound like she has begun to take on a more earthy and atmospheric style, Sharon Van Etten's vocals still remain the most captivating part of this new album. A raw and honest performance from the frontwoman, 'Remind Me Tomorrow' will sit as one of her most intriguing releases to date.
45. The National – ‘I Am Easy To Find’
What We Said…
After the release of their Grammy Award-winning LP 'Sleep Well Beast' in 2017, The National were rightfully exhausted once the promotion was over. Not the young men they used to be, the group decided to call a brief hiatus to the band last year in an attempt to rebuild their enthusiasm as well as give frontman Matt Berninger and guitarist Bryce Dessner a chance to pursue a few passion projects that would keep their minds off their formative outfit. And from just a few quick listens of 'I Am Easy To Find', it is clear that the break did them a world of good as their eighth full-length seems bigger and bolder than ever.
While the group have always been known for grand and euphoric indie-rock since their infancy, there is something about the production of this record that sees them go that little bit further into their own state of euphoria. With singles like 'You Had Your Soul With You' and 'Quiet Light' introducing the album, we are treated to some truly anthemic and, at times, cinematic examples of where this new collection is heading. Coupling that with the more sombre notes of 'Roman Holiday' and 'Rylan', 'I Am Easy To Find' has this wonderful juxtaposition of tones and emotions that make this release such a turbulent but enthralling collection to listen to.
This may already be their eighth LP to date, but The National are far from slowly down creatively. With such a broad and textured sound throughout, this new album looks set to become one of their most fan pleasing to date, with very little filler on the 16-track release. A strong and confident from a band that just seem to make all the right moves.
44. Stormzy – ‘Heavy Is The Head’’
What We Said…
The emergence of Stormzy a few years ago was a rare sight in the grime scene at the time. While many other names have followed in the buzz in which he created, he was one of the very few newcomers to rise in an environment that was still heavily dominated by more established names. But after a couple of years of nothing but upward ascent since his highly praised debut album 'Gang Signs & Prayers', the rapper has returned with his sophomore LP 'Heavy Is The Head', a release that feels far more assured and confident than his initial release.
With 'Gang Signs & Prayers', it felt like he was just throwing stuff together in order to create a studio album that reflected the previous few years in his creation and ended up feeling more disjointed than it should have. But with 'Heavy Is The Head', he has created all of this new music in the same headspace, giving us a far more cohesive and succinct collection in the process. While the production may have a diverse approach, the message and tone of this record remains very much on the same path, allowing us to really understand his state of mind right now as he looks to make something more than just about himself.
Political, poignant and most importantly relevant, 'Heavy Is The Head' is likely to go down as one of the best UK rap albums of the last decade. Although it feels very much like a time capsule with its topics, right now we are all feeling what Stormzy is feeling, and that makes for a very powerful return.
43. FKA twigs – ‘Magdalene’
What We Said…
When she released her stunning debut album 'LP1' back in 2014, it was greeted as one of the most unique and innovative records of the decade. Mixing her love of dance with a bold and powerful atmosphere created this abstract direction that many have been influenced by since its arrival. But after five years on the back burner, FKA twigs has been solemnly plotting her return and more importantly, finding out who she feels she is in today's climate. So with 'MAGDALENE', she looks to pose more questions than she can answer on this impressive return.
Inspired by the story of Mary Magdalene, whose patience and commitment to Jesus ultimately became portrayed as negative when her story was written by the men of the time, 'MAGDALENE' pitches itself as a feminist entity that looks to push back on the male opinion of herself. With additional production coming from the spellbinding soundscape wizard Nicolas Jaar, this new collection aims to be a far more otherworldly release than its predecessor, regularly opting for smooth and blissful compositions than anything with a strong percussion to create this warm yet haunting full-length of multiple twists and turns.
It is clear that FKA twigs has spent the last five years doing some serious soul searching. This is not really an album she has focused on, but one that has come about after focusing on herself. It is simply a byproduct of her own personal journey and one that mesmerises us with its brutal honesty and captivating production.
42. Sleater-Kinney – ‘The Center Won’t Hold’
What We Said…
Even the build up to this new release was filled with turbulent drama. When we found out that Sleater-Kinney would be making a return to release their ninth studio album 'The Center Won't Hold', we were also treated to the news that Annie Clark aka St. Vincent would be producing the record, leading to a wave of positive and exciting preview singles. However, things quickly turned on their side when news broke that original drummer and founding member Janet Weiss suddenly quit the band a few weeks prior to its release. But despite her now absence, the presence of each member seems fully invigorated on this new collection.
The release of 'The Center Won't Hold' also marks the 25th anniversary of the group, leading them to take on far more chances this time around. You would usually expect a band of their tenure to begin to slip into more comfortable surroundings, adopting safer and more crowd-pleasing aesthetics. But it is clear from the very start that they have no such interest to fall back into themselves as Anne Clark's production sees them reach for a more experimental edge to their sound, leading to a series of bold and exciting new cuts that move the band away from their formative sound and into something far more enticing.
Times may have changed, and Sleater-Kinney look more than keen to keep moving with them. 'The Center Won't Hold' is an unrelenting juggernaut of fresh and captivating ideas, all slipping nicely into that alternative pop dynamic that St. Vincent has introduced them to. This is not a case of a band coming to the end of their wave, but the beginning of something new and interesting for their fans to get stuck into.
41. Panda Bear – ‘Buoys’
What We Said…
During his time as Animal Collective's most forward-thinking member, producer Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear has managed to create a solo career as captivating as his formative outfit. With a stunning array of unconventional works and psychedelic inspirations, the frontman has stood as a bold and dynamic artist that still manages to separate himself from his work within Animal Collective. And now onto his sixth solo release 'Buoys', the beatmaker seems even more at ease in his own abilities than we have heard recently, and once again delivers the wonderfully warped goods.
While his 'A Day With The Homies' EP last year saw him take on a more forceful and abrasive edge than we are used to, this new collection sees him revert back to his core sound of eccentric electronics and a sparse yet sometimes haunting atmosphere that really becomes the focus of this new release. Always one to put his own place on the record behind the layered productions and tones, 'Buoys' plays with the subtle elegance of a man simply riffing with ideas that somehow manage to form a full and completed work. His laidback demeanour throughout this LP becomes infectious, so much so that just listening to a few minutes of it will leave you in a more relaxed state of mind.
It is hard to believe that after all this time there is still plenty of inventiveness within the protagonist, but somehow Panda Bear has become one of those unstoppable entities within the alternative music scene. An incredible well-constructed and cohesive release that just demands to be heard from start to finish.