2019 was a pretty impressive year for music fans and a perfect sendoff to what was an important decade for music as a platform; the 2010s saw streaming services firmly cement themselves as the medium of choice for fans all over the world, with other trends including the rise of the self-published artist and greater than ever popularity of music festivals.
Bringing it back to 2019, I’m sure we were all aware of the more popular releases from Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and even a double billing from Ed Sheeran (which absolutely no one asked for). Rap fans especially got their fix, with great records from Tyler the Creator, Stormzy, Freddie Gibbs, and Post Malone even managed to churn out another 20-song mixtape to keep the streaming revenue trundling in.
Despite this, a number of great records released without the attention they deserved. Below are 5 albums that went under the radar last year, but are definitely worth checking out for both hardcore and casual listeners alike.
Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
Despite her music sitting in what could be described as the arguably oversaturated genres of indie and pop rock, Yanya’s music feels refreshingly devoid of staple indie clichés. Centre stage in Miss Universe are Yanya’s gorgeous understated Chelsea-accented vocals; accompanying them she wields glossy synths and electric guitar with equal tact, shifting genres between emotional ballads and gritty rock bangers. This eclectic mix might be expected from a musician who turned down a spot in a girl group produced by Louis Thomlinson to chase her own style, who grew up listening to a mix of her father’s Turkish music and her mother’s classical music. For pop fans seeking a detour from the familiar sounds of squeaky clean radio pop, Miss Universe is a must listen.
Standout track: ‘Paralysed’
Erika de Casier – Essentials
For R&B fans out there, Erika de Casier’s Essentials is well.. an essential listen (sorry). Easily the best R&B album from last year in my mind (sorry Anderson .Paak), Essentials went criminally under the radar, with little coverage from music journalism, and scarcely any information on herself or her record label ‘Independent Jeep Music’ available online. Her music clearly draws inspiration from 90s R&B legends (Sade, Aaliyah, a touch of early Janet Jackson), but with a unique lo fi aesthetic characterised by minimal yet atmospheric instrumentation underneath pristine reverb-soaked vocals. Erika uses her low key aesthetic to her advantage; the charming video to single ‘Do My Thing’ follows Erika on a bike ride through Copenhagen on route to a club, providing a refreshing intimacy from the impersonal, big budget major label videos that seem to dominate the trending page on YouTube.
Standout track: ‘Do My Thing’
Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
Certainly the most tragic story on this list, Purple Mountains’ creator David Berman sadly passed away less than a month after the release of the eponymous album under his ‘Purple Mountains’ solo act. ‘The end of all wanting is all I’ve been wanting’, sings Berman on the opening track ‘That’s just the way that I feel’, and with lyrics like these it’s not difficult to tell there is a tortured soul somewhere behind these songs. You would be forgiven for thinking the depressive lyrical tone could make for a bleak listening experience, but juxtaposed against Berman’s somber vocal tone are lilting melodies and beautiful, creative instrumentals. Purple Mountains shows Berman doing his best to stay hopeful amidst a rapidly spiraling mental state, showcasing his abundant talent as a songwriter while making it all too clear that depression is a silent killer which at the turn of the new decade, seemingly isn’t going away any time soon.
Standout track: ‘All My Happiness Is Gone’
(Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
One of Lo-Fi indie’s best kept secrets, the curiously named ‘(Sandy) Alex G’ (distinguishing himself from a similarly named cover singer ‘Alex G’) made a name for himself at the turn of a decade with his DIY style – recording every instrument himself for his low budget, idiosyncratic bedroom recordings on Bandcamp. Fast forward almost a decade and an increased budget and devoted cult following have done little to alter his quirky instrumentals and unique songwriting style. House of Sugar may well be his most accomplished project yet, with trademark ragged chord progressions and existential lyrics once again making their appearance, present this time amongst a more mature, refined sound, reminiscent of Alex’s personal transition from adolescence as well as the end of the decade itself.
Standout track: ‘SugarHouse – Live’
Caroline Polachek – Pang
With a name that doesn’t really roll off the tongue and a debut that only released a couple months back, you could be forgiven for not hearing of one of art pop’s big new faces. Known for her work in indie pop duo Chairlift before their disbandment in 2017, Polachek’s music combines 90s synth pop (a la Duran Duran, Sophie B. Hawkins) with angular melodies of the traditional Japanese music that shaped her childhood in Tokyo. Pang (named for jolts of adrenaline that Polachek experienced in the months she spent working on her album) features Polachek’s breathless, euphoric vocals as centrepiece to arrangements of lush synths, bass and drums. The bright, often hyperreal production of multiple tracks clearly display the influence of PC Music’s AG Cook and Danny L Harle, while fantastic mixing ensure Polachek’s vocals always stand out clearly amongst the chaos.
Standout track: ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’