IT’S been a vintage year for albums, making the choice of SFTW No1 quite a task. But the full flowering of Michael Kiwanuka’s talents demanded recognition.
His third album, Kiwanuka, is soulful and sophisticated. It just pipped the epic double album by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Ghosteen, and Bruce Springsteen’s tour de force Western Stars. The top ten also features our favourite new artists Billie Eilish and Yola.
THREE years on from his No1 album Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka returned with his career- best work.
SFTW went to Berlin to meet the touring London-based singer songwriter and found a man coming to terms with the acclaim for his third record.
Michael told us how he had managed to overcome personal demons that had stunted him in the past.
He said: “It’s been a therapeutic album, for sure.
“I’ve had anxiety before but this time I had anxieties of a different kind. I’m 32 and I knew I had to tackle my worries properly or they were going to remain.”
Michael says he struggled to understand where he fitted in and accept that he had a right to his success.
There were plenty of high points on this album, from the stomping Rolling, the beautiful Piano Joint and Hero, a song partly inspired by US civil rights activist Fred Hampton from the Black Panthers.
Kiwanuka said: “Hampton, to me is a hero. He died young (murdered at 21) and it made me think how people with loads to give in life can die really young — and other people who have nothing to bring live ’til they are old.
“So that song is about dying a hero, too.”
Produced by American Grammy- winner Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Londoner Inflo, Kiwanuka told us: “Longevity and being a true artist is everything I dream of.
“Instead of trying to contain it, you have to embrace the madness. And that’s what I have done. It’s been tricky but I really think this album is the start of what’s to come.”
2.NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
ONCE a finger-wagging provocateur, the Aussie has evolved into a more inclusive soul since the terrible loss of son Arthur. This double album, filled with rare beauty and profound lyrics, came across as an overwhelming symphony of sorrow, longing and, ultimately, love.
SPRINGSTEEN’s 19th album sees sweeping orchestrations, lashings of country music favourite the pedal steel guitar, and female backing singers framing a voice that ranged from gritty drawl to free-flowing croon. A coherent, consistent piece of work executed with buckets of panache.
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
MIXING whispered vocals with overpowering, echoing bass beats, the LA teen’s hotly anticipated debut lived up to the hype. Sparse ballads Listen Before I Go and Ilomilo were catchy and unnerving. The perfect soundtrack to her generation’s disaffection.
WHEN it comes to new artists of 2019, it’s all about Fender and his friend Lewis Capaldi. That Sounds, Play God and White Privilege made this album a special one. Discovered by Ben Howard’s manager and with The Boss as his idol, Fender’s songs hailed him the new working-class voice in British rock.
Walk Through Fire
THE British singer with a golden voice was the latest to hook up with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Her debut album was filled with retro-styled country soul, a path trodden by Dusty Springfield a lifetime ago. The earthy Love All Night (Work All Day) was about her struggles to succeed.
Help Us Stranger
ELEVEN years after Consolers Of The Lonely, the band fronted by Jack White and Brendan Benson were back with an unashamed blast of freewheeling guitar rock including spectacular riffage (Bored And Razed), a squalling shindig (Don’t Bother Me) and pretty power pop (Only Child).
Why Me? Why Not.
SOLO album No2 from the former Oasis star showed him hitting his stride. 2017’s As You Were silenced the doubters and this wiped the floor with them. In triumphant mood on rock-stomp opener Shockwave and One Of Us was a poignant appraisal of his relationship with Noel. Still the voice of a generation.
Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent
THE breakout star of 2019 when he spent seven weeks at No1 with Someone You Loved. The biggest selling album of the year boasted standouts as Grace, Hollywood and Bruises – the track that first got him noticed. And as well as his music, Capaldi has become something of a star on social media.
THE South London rapper’s standout debut won the Mercury Prize for his searing, personal, story-telling style. Environment deconstructs the insecurity behind the glamorous and aspirational social media culture. Musically it made you want to stop and listen. Thoughtful, insightful and intense. Wow.
IT was wonderful to hear the growing noise around this reliably interesting singer, who first came to our attention singing backing vocals for Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Her fourth studio album confirmed her beguiling way with a song.
12.LANA DEL REY
Norman F***ing Rockwell!
SIXTH studio album was a career peak, swapping hip-hop for lush piano ballads on tracks like Venice Bitch. The gentle folk influences on Love Song made it a thing of beauty while The Greatest was spine-tingling. A unique and fascinating artist.
NOT since Robyn had we been so excited about a Scandinavian pop queen. The BBC Music’s Sound Of 2018 winner released stylish electronic tracks like the brilliant Strangers, which featured on this debut. Other standouts included Never Mine.
Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1
THE first of two records and it was brilliant, with frenetic guitars and electronica. Standout tracks were Exits and In Degrees, which singer Yannis Philippakis said was “Foals going for the jugular of dance music”.
15.THE BLACK KEYS
AN electrifying return to the uncluttered guitar/drums interplay of the duo’s early work. Loaded with stadium pleasers like Shine A Little Light and Eagle Birds, the lean and direct album was all over in 37 ideal-for-vinyl minutes.
Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
HIS first album in five years was one of his most engaging. It found him revelling in domestic bliss as a 53-year-old husband and dad. There were lots of songs, 20 in total, and the livelier-than-usual accompaniments reflected the mood.
ALBUM No4 was experimental and ambitious, yet loaded with accessible songs. Glitchy electronica, hip-hop beats, the singer’s plaintive tones, layered synths, glorious horns, acoustic strums and tasteful piano were wonderful bedfellows.
Beneath The Eyrie
THIS deliciously dark affair drew on US folklore to become Pixies’ best since they reformed. Sleazy song St Nazaire, named after the French town used as a German U-Boat base, unleashed a full Debaser-style holler from Black Francis.
Cuz I Love You
LIZZO made her name with this third album. About self-worth, the singer, rapper and flautist spread her love and positivity on Soulmate, on the sassy banger Juice while Tempo, her collaboration with Missy Elliott, was another anthem.
THIS is where Styles found his sound post-1D. The follow-up to his 2017 debut included stylish pop on tracks like Golden and Adore You while Treat People With Kindness had a 70s feel. Pyschedelic fun that proved he was the real deal.
Giants Of All Sizes
THEIR best since 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid. Far from celebratory in tone, it was a departure musically and some of their most direct lyrics. White Noise White Heat and The Delayed 3:15 were cinematic songs inspired by troubled times.
Hoodies All Summer
A RELEVANT and rem- arkable sixth album by one of Britain’s most thoughtful and creative grime stars. The most ambitious track was Trouble, a telling indictment of political failures behind our knife-crime epidemic.
From Out Of Nowhere
COMPLETE with a redesign of the ELO spaceship, this LP continued Lynne’s wildly successful return. Infused with welcome Mr Blue Sky positivity, a rare ingredient these days, it ended on a high note with the wistful Songbird.
THEIR sparse post-punk had echoes of The Modern Lovers and The Strokes, but this band could not be from anywhere other than Dublin. A bold, big and brilliant debut from the leaders of a new generation of Irish guitar bands.
INSPIRED by her late sister Jaime, this was the brilliant solo debut from the Alabama Shakes frontwoman. Tracks Goat Head and Georgia were emotional and moving, while Stay High was about enjoying the love of family and friends.
THE “godfather of punk” reined in his wild man ways for a jazzy solo effort, opening with the title track and its spoken lyric “I wanna be free”. Silky horn-playing from Leron Thomas and textured “guitarscapes” from Noveller.
WITH Pete Townshend in wonderfully bolshy mood and Roger Daltrey in towering, emphatic form, this first studio effort in 13 years teemed with energy. It belied the age of its chief protagonists and echoed the glory days of Who’s Next.
AFTER messing around with songs he’d started with Pharrell Williams, Beck Hansen found he had his 14th and most collaborative album. A minimalist record named after a video game, it dealt with anxiety and fears of technology.
Cause And Effect
AN exciting comeback for the Sussex band after internal frictions had pulled them apart. This fifth album with an accompanying tour put them back on the musical map and included the brilliant The Way I Feel and Stupid Things.
THE album charts a night out escaping the world’s troubles and sees the band at their most experimental. Nocturnal Creatures nods to beats of the Nineties while Another Place is, as the band put it, “about throwing yourself into the night”.
BEGINNING with a ferocious blast of hard rock, Off My Mind, quite a shock to Hawley fans, this concise, focused collection still made room for trademark balladry in the shape of Emiliana, Midnight Train and album closer Doors.
Father Of The Bride
IT had been six years since Vampire Weekend put out an album. Steve Lacy of The Internet and Danielle Haim were guests and at 18 tracks, frontman Ezra Koenig showed he had no problem coming up with material.
33. JENNY LEWIS
On The Line
TURNING 40 was a life-changing moment for Jenny Lewis – and when she started writing On The Line, her most personal album. She reconciled with her dying mother, split from her long-term boyfriend and left Los Angeles.
What You See Is What You Get
COMBS is the latest unvarnished star rising to the top of America’s country scene. The North Carolina singer delivered a heartfelt and rousing collection that included a cameo from his heroes Brooks & Dunn.
35. THE S.L.P
A SWAGGERING solo debut from Serge Pizzorno that reflects the Kasabian guitarist’s love of film scores, Balearic and “dirty basslines”. Little Simz is on Favourites while Slowthai guests on Meanwhile . . . At The Welcome Break.
36. THE SPECIALS
THEIR first album for 38 years with founders Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter all present was relevant, meaningful … and a joy. “It wouldn’t be a Specials record if it was just about flowers and rainbows,” said singer Hall.
37. JADE BIRD
JADE BIRD was the real deal. A Brit School graduate who didn’t rely on co-writers, with this album based on the “experiences of the past two years”. The best tracks were Ruins, Side Effects and poignant ballad If I Die, about her mum.
The Livelong Day
THE Dublin folk sensations didn’t play things by the book – hence their growing reputation as a refreshing and innovative act. The ominous, reverb-laden march, The Pride Of Petravore, proved a fabulous bridge between past and present.
39. STEVE EARLE
EARLE’S latest with The Dukes was a heartfelt, straightlaced album of Guy Clark covers paying tribute one of his two significant “mentors”. It arrived a decade after he doffed one of his old cowboy hats to the other, Townes Van Zandt.
40. J.S. ONDARA
Tales Of America
The Kenyan-born folksinger began a new life in Minnesota, the state where his hero Bob Dylan grew up. The young troubadour’s ravishing debut was most notable for the sheer joy in his singing which rises effortlessly to a wholehearted falsetto.
41. THE HIGHWOMEN
FOLLOWING in the footsteps of outlaws Cash, Nelson, Kristofferson and Jennings, four women with bucketloads of attitude – Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris. A modern country classic.
42. BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER
NOT that long ago Conor Oberst was plying his trade in musical angst as leader of Bright Eyes. For the self-titled album by this mini “supergroup”, he joined with rising star Phoebe Bridgers. Cue lovely harmonising.
43. BIG THIEF
THIS should have been the “difficult” third album for the US four-piece. But it was their best yet and it was quickly followed by another album, the equally impressive Two Hands. Captivating vocals from Adrianne Lenker.
44. MARK RONSON
Late Night Feelings
RONSON’s fifth album was his most impressive work yet which he called a collection of “sad bangers” inspired by the collapse of his marriage to Josephine de La Baume. Collaborators included Alicia Keys, who sang on album highlight Truth.
45. THE LUMINEERS
THIS concept album about the fictional Sparks family touched on themes of addiction, depression and dysfunctional relationships. The record’s highlights included the hushed, piano-led Donna and up-tempo but harrowing Gloria.
46. FRANK TURNER
No Man’s Land
FOLK-PUNK troubadour Turner told the stories of remarkable women, some wicked, some wonderful, some tragic, some inspiring. His fascination with them extended to illuminating half-hour podcasts for each song.
47. LEONARD COHEN
Thanks For The Dance
PRESERVING the integrity and aesthetic of the much-missed Canadian songwriter was no small feat. But this posthumous album, two years after You Want It Darker, was produced by the man who knew him best, his son Adam.
48. WEYES BLOOD
A US indie artist who has risen to the top almost by stealth. A vehicle for Natalie Mering, who decided her fourth album sounded like “Enya meets Bob Seger”, with ethereal vocals and retro soundscapes, she might just be right.
49. HOT CHIP
A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
THE soft, dreamy vocals of Alexis Taylor and the larger-than-life beats were given a spaced-out flavour on album number seven. Why Does My Mind? has a Zen-like feel while No God raised the roof and the idea that love is all you need.
50. BRING ME THE HORIZON
OVERCOMING tough times, the band departed from their usual heavy sound to experiment with dance influences and ballads. Mantra earned them a Grammy nod while Medicine was the group at their poppiest.