FMS Magazine’s Top 35 Albums & EPs of 2019

Sometime in the last decade, End of Year lists changed dramatically. We can discuss the pros and cons of cheap recording and streaming services all day long, but what’s indisputable is the world is flooded with music right now. Once debt incurring budgets and industry backing were usually required to get your music to the masses, whereas now very little prevents a basement genius from completing their 340-minute-long progressive death jazz magnum opus

Now the big hurdle for artists is getting heard above the noise. It’s still the Wild West when it comes to promotion, and artist development is almost non-existent at present. Still, I remain optimistic about the future of music. Additionally, that ‘future’ often involves brilliant records, made decades ago, getting a new life after being buried because they couldn’t find their audience during the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks years. I’m regularly coming across something ‘new’ that was recorded in 1977. 

Nothing is out of print anymore. 

Women, artists of colour, and openly LGBTQ performers continue to move to the front, as stock in what has traditionally been a Boy’s Club loses value. The U.S. and U.K. are starting to get the message that they aren’t dictating the rules. My 2017 and 2018 Best Of lists, combined, only had one American and one British Band on it. Estonia, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Brazil, and Chile were all well-represented. Of course, these countries all have long traditions of producing great music, but with this new democratization their international reach has never been broader. 

My colleagues at FMS, who are spread out all over the globe, thought it would be fun to share what got us out of bed in 2019. The rules were pretty vague: Top Six? Top Nine? Sure. Do EPs count? Why not! Mainly we just wanted to give a little nudge to our friends who are constantly commenting that they “don’t even know where to start these days.” – Alex Maiolo

1. Tallies – Tallies (11 January, 2019)

“Hailing from Toronto, this four-piece make music that’s so quintessentially timeless it could have been created in any of the last four decades. As it happens, it emerged in 2018, which makes it even more relevant. While comparisons with The Sundays, Cocteau Twins and Alvvays aren’t wide of the mark; Tallies have a sound and vision clearly of their own. ‘Beat The Heart’ and ‘Mother’ scream “play me!” to every radio playlister on the planet, while the more introspective likes of ‘Have You’ and ‘Easy Enough’ ably demonstrate the wide spectrum of ideas involved in this incredible debut. For a band starting just out, Tallies is an impeccable documentation of baby steps growing into giant leaps. Here’s to the follow up!” – Dom Gourlay

2. The Twilight Sad – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME (18 January, 2019)

“If one band’s output has reached a standard very few have lived up to throughout the decade it has to be The Twilight Sad. Ever since 2007’s debut, Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters announced their arrival to an unsuspecting world, they’ve continually put out a subsequent plethora of incredibly ground-breaking records. So, this year’s fifth long player, It Won’t Be Like This All The Time, more than lived up to expectations. The band’s first for Rock Action, it proved to be both a commiseration and celebration of the world as we know it, embracing media culture (‘VTr’), Hollywood legends (‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’) and French composer Erik Satie (‘I’m Not Here (Missing Face)’)’ among its eleven compositions. For a band who’ve been on the precipice of international recognition for a while now, this was the record that ensured their status as global pioneers.” – Dom Gourlay

3. Júníus Meyvant – Across The Borders (25 January, 2019)

Across The Borders is the second studio album from Icelandic Americana-soul artist, Júníus Meyvant, whose combination of gritty vocals and a more mellow folk-pop style make for a superb Northern Soul-inspired record. With a pleasing balance of upbeat and smoother tracks, Meyvant channels a strong air of positivity throughout what is an absorbing, sunny album, with the vocals on standout tracks ‘Love Child,’ ‘Carry On With Me’ and ‘Until The Last Minute’ drawing similarities to the husky voices of James Morrison and Faces-era Rod Stewart.” – Mike Powell

4. Swervedriver – Future Ruins (25 January, 2019)

“When it was coined, ‘shoegaze’ was a lousy term. Not because it was dismissive; critics often don’t understand paradigm shifts, but because, like ‘krautrock’ before it, it lumped together bands with very little in common. Of the groups that burst forth, bearing the standard of new psychedelia, if My Bloody Valentine were Led Zeppelin, Ride were The Byrds. Unfortunately, around the time the scene was fizzling out, they chucked out the 12 string guitars and took a stab at being a proper pop band, losing me along the way. Of all the genre victory laps, shoegaze’s has produced the best records, by far. Swervedriver continues to release spectacular albums, including this year’s Future Ruins (25 January). I maintain that Slowdive‘s return yielded the best album of their career. This Is Not A Safe Place has Ride pairing what made them famous, along with some truly new ideas. At gigs, “here’s a new one” usually triggers a pavlovian response of “now it’s time to take a piss and grab a beer,” but at this year’s Swervedriver and Ride shows my cup remained empty and my bladder full for their entire sets.” – Alex Maiolo

5. TOY – Happy In The Hollow (25 January 2019)

“Self-produced/recorded, the Brighton quintet’s fourth album, with its raw, dreamy soundscapes is their most compelling record to date. Combining the best bits from their previous three albums, Happy In The Hollow becomes a great magic brew of punk, synth and doom. From the ghostly synth-sounds on ‘Mistake A Stranger’ to the warm but yet chilly vibes on key track, ‘Last Warmth Of The Day’ – with a spine-chilling guitar line not far off Neil Diamond’s 1967 hit, ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’- the album, as a whole, provides you with a perfect sonic journey you’d be silly not to venture out on.” – Anders Knudsen

6. Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive (22 February, 2019)

“Sleaford Mods are the ultimate marmite band, so if you aren’t already convinced by their agit-spoken word, LoFi hip hop \ DIY post punk hybrid by now then you’re never going to get it. Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn don’t deliver anything radically different on their fifth LP, Eton Alive, although Jason does try to sing a bit more. However, they remain the genuine voice of the maligned working class in BREXIT Britain, which is still oddly thrilling to hear as it is sadly too often lacking, having been painted out of the picture by glossy rock n’ roll fantasies, highjacked by middle class pretenders or just ignored by the music industry completely.” – Jimi Arundell

7. Alice Phoebe Lou – Paper Castles (08 March, 2019)

“There’s something infinitely pleasing about Alice Phoebe Lou’s voice that completely forgives the likeness of the 10 tracks found on her sophomore album, Paper Castles. The entire makeup of the record sounds both naïve and intricate, with delicate layering that gently patters like rain on your window, and ebbs and flows like the sea. Paper Castles may not be an album to listen to in one sitting – unless of course, you’re completely in the zone – but each song brings such refreshment and joy when it pops up individually on my iPhone shuffle, that it definitely belongs on my personal best of list for 2019.” – Sarah Hardy

8. Jenny Lewis – On The Line (22 March, 2019)

“Her best solo album yet, maybe her best ever but I’m a big Rilo Kiley fan so it’s hard to say.” – Michael Robert Williams

9. Orville Peck – Pony (22 March, 2019)

“I knew I loved Orville Peck within the first 30 seconds of listening to ‘Dead Of Night’ – the first track on his debut album, Pony. I’m a big fan of men singing about men and women singing about women, because that makes sense in my world, and I love the deep tones of Peck’s voice, paired with the twangy country rhythms and shoegaze-y guitars. Peck is an atmospheric storyteller, and the entire album is totally cinematic. As for the whole masked cowboy persona… it’s a little bit kink, and I love a bit of kink.” – Sarah Hardy

10. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (29 March, 2019)

“I’m so sick of hearing music ‘fans’ bitch about her, and some jealous artists bitching too. I love hearing new young artists coming through – and she is an artist. As much as anything is new these days, Billie’s sound is. Maybe an obvious line to use but; Best new ‘young’ artist since Lorde.” – Michael Robert Williams

11. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You (19 April, 2019)

“I hate the term lady boss. But this lady is really a boss with something on her mind and heart. A role model in her own self embracing way. Teaching one of life’s most important lessons; Love yourself. One of the most important new voices of 2019.” – Camilla Trodyb

12. Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride (03 May, 2019)

“Not their best album, but better than pretty much all the other bands of their type this year. For me, Modern Vampires Of The City is still their high water mark.” – Michael Robert Williams

13. Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation (04 May, 2019)

“As a modular synthesizer performer and composer, I was told by many people to check out Berbieri years ago. I liked it but it didn’t entirely click at the time. Maybe I was too focused on Suzanne Ciani‘s triumphant return, or how Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith was taking things to new places. Ecstatic Computation is the one that hooked me, and I fell for it hard. Winding, sequenced passages reminiscent of classic Tangerine Dream, but also benefitting from non-vintage equipment are the backbone of this record, and I found that her computations did indeed make me ecstatic. ‘Fantas’ alone, is worth the piece of admission.” – Alex Maiolo

14. Miley Cyrus – She Is Coming (31 May, 2019)

“Miley Cyrus is the quintessence of bad ass in my world and oh she is coming in every way on this album.  The power is undeniable, and it is so wonderful honest and dirty.” – Camilla Trodyb

15. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (14 June, 2019)

“Yeah, yeah – I know, it sounds like a pick straight from a Q Magazine reader, but – I do love Springsteen! How many artists are still making music at 70, let alone this good. Why is it good? It’s Springsteen! :P” – Michael Robert Williams

16. Penelope Isles – Until The Tide Creeps In (12 July, 2019)

“The Isle of Man isn’t renowned for its musical heritage. Which makes the emergence of Penelope Isles quite unique in many ways. Based around siblings Lily and Jack Wolter, who left the aforementioned island to travel and write music before settling in Brighton where they met rhythm section Becky Redford (bass) and Jack Sowton. Until The Tide Creeps In is a debut that evokes childhood memories and a sense of loss with some of the most wishful thinking and symbiotic daydreams we’ve heard since Galaxie 500 unleashed On Fire or latterly, The Magic Numbers became a thing. Some of the songs here go back five years or more but each one tells its own story in the most individual way possible. What’s more, the foursome’s live show is another journey altogether that travels beyond specification by genre or style.” – Dom Gourlay

17. Clairo – Immunity (02 August, 2019)

“With a soft vocal and lo-fi beats, newcomer Clairo created a soundtrack with the ups and downs of teenage love. We have all been through it; The heartbreaks, the sweetness – the emotional whirlwinds and Clairo takes us through it all in a refreshing and familiar way at the same time.” – Camilla Trodyb 

18. Bon Iver – i,i (09 August, 2019)

“It’s been 12 years since Justin Vernon, in his role as Bon Iver, made his debut, For Emma, Forever Ago and he continues to make music like no one else. Brilliant.” – Michael Robert Williams

19. RIDE – This Is Not A Safe Place (16 August, 2019)

“The reunion bandwagon has been hurtling at full pace for a large part of this decade. However, the ones whose presence has been firmly noted are those who’ve thought about their reasons for reforming in the first place. Namely Ride, whose modus operandi has always been about creating new music. Ever since 2014’s reunion – initially as a commemoration of the band’s debut album, Nowhere – they’ve striven to make new music not only comparable but also actually better than their original output. So, when sixth album, This Is Not A Safe Place appeared at the tail end of summer, hot on the heels of its also excellent predecessor, Weather Diaries, expectations were high. And rightly so, because it ticked every box in the Ride canon and more besides. Showing differing sides to a band that refuse to be pigeonholed while offering a vision for their next creative instalment.” – Dom Gourlay  

20. Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops (23 August, 2019)

“Whilst abrasive Australian band The Drones are on hiatus, Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin have teamed up with hardcore punk Lauren Hammel from High Tension and Erica Dunn of MOD CON and Palm Springs to form Tropical Fuck Storm. This year they released their second creepy art punk LP, Braindrops. Awash with LSD induced paranoia, irregular rhythms characterised by pained detuned guitars are combined with frenzied rantings in a surrealist deconstruction of the 21st century.” – Jimi Arundell

21. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (30 August, 2019)

“Brilliant – I do love a fix of Americana – Evocative imagery – her best since her debut.” – Michael Robert Williams

22. Bunkerpop – Bunkerpop (13 Seprember, 2019)

“Decked out in white boiler suits and spending most of their sets leading conga lines of enthusiastic (and pissed up) fans around the venue to the sound of their hypnotic beats rather than lounging on stage, Bunkerpop are constantly forced to remind the world that they are a band and not a cult. Their very British circuit-bent version of krautrock, as first presented on their eponymously titled debut album, which is released on independent label Fast and Bulbous, is truly addictive and so it’s easy to lose yourself in the mesmerising electronic repetition and never come back. But remember; it’s NOT a cult.” – Jimi Arundell

23. Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles (13 September, 2019)

“I’ve never had a Sam Fender press release drop into my inbox, so my first recollection of his music is hearing ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ on the radio and thinking ‘now that is an absolutely cracking tune’. I remember repeating his name aloud so that I wouldn’t forget to investigate. I forgot. So, it wasn’t until I accidentally caught his performance of ‘Will We Talk?’ on some TV show that I eventually put a name to a face, and to another cracking tune. Now I’m hooked. Fender manages to totally engage his audience in ever-present issues beyond girl-boy relationships; admittedly with more questions than answers, but we need more people asking questions than we do heads in the sand. I’m just gutted that I never caught him live on the way up. Large crowds freak me out. Totally missed him. As for the comparisons to Bruce Springsteen… so what? I fucking love Bruce Springsteen.” – Sarah Hardy

24. LIFE – A Picture Of Good Health (20 September, 2019)

“Pissed off post punks, LIFE have rose to become Hull City’s most high-profile band with the release of their debut album, Popular Music just two years ago, which led to them playing SXSW and touring Europe with IDLES. This time round, the fiery foursome decided to concentrate on their personal circumstances to highlight the political effects of Tory rule on their follow up record, A Picture Of Good Health. Catchy as hell, the album boasts so many mighty singles, including ‘Bum Hour’, ‘Grown Up’, ‘Hollow Thing’, ‘Excites Me’ and ‘Moral Fibre’. To be honest, every single track is so expertly written any one of them could have been a single – a feat which is even more impressive when you discover that it was recorded in just four weeks!” – Jimi Arundell

25. Alessandro Cortini Volume Massimo (27 September, 2019)

“I’m not sure how common it is to vastly prefer late period NIN over the stuff that put them on the map, but I do. Multi-instrumentalist Cortini fits heavily into that equation. His solo albums explore the hazy, warbled tape, soundtrack qualities that are his calling card. He mastered the slow build ages ago, but something about the songs on this record make them feel like music for a suspense film that has yet to be made. Volume Massimo is his first release since signing to the Mute label, where he undoubtedly belongs, among their illustrious roster.” – Alex Maiolo

26. Automatic – Signal (27 September, 2019)

“Sometimes being defined by genre can be the kiss of death for any band or musician. So, here’s Automatic to transgress any and every boundary known to man. This Los Angeles based trio fuse all the best bits of punk, funk, electronic and noise into one humungous melting pot that makes them one of 2019’s most crucial discoveries. While still relatively unknown outside of their native homebase, this debut record has introduced them to a brand new audience only too welcome to hear songs that reference the Go-Go’s, Tom Tom Club and Ladytron in equal measure. We won’t tell you what they’re called as that would be giving the game away so check out ‘Signal’. We guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.” – Dom Gourlay

27. Trentemøller – Obverse (27 September, 2019)

“Even though he was already a master of the studio, 2018 and 2019 had Anders Trentemøller exploring its possibilities even deeper, after many months away from home, on tour. What was meant to be an instrumental release, before long, saw half of the songs featuring vocals, one by Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Clearly influenced by the modulated warbles of shoegaze, and bands like The Cure, as much as electronica, his influences are nodded to, but never fully embroidered on his sleeve. ‘Blue September’ covers these bases, and features his long-time partner, vocalist Lisbet Fritze, who helps to make it a standout track. While so many modern takes on psychedelia and dark wave are bathed in pastiche, Trentemøller is fusing them and writing the next chapter. The result is both cold and cosy, reflectant of his native Denmark as well as feeling international, making Trentemøller’s music as essential to modern Danish culture as New Nordic Fashion and Cuisine. Tied with Floating Points for my favourite of the year.” – Alex Maiolo

28. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (03 October, 2019)

“Ghosteen is pure poetry. It has everything. Desperation, longing, beauty and hope. An 8-track masterpiece with a little light in the dark from Mr. Cave.” – Camilla Trodyb

“He just keeps delivering, taking whatever life throws at him and putting it into words as only he can.” – Michael Robert Williams

29. Arif – Arif i Waanderland (04 October, 2019)

“With his second album Norwegian rapper Arif Invites the listener into his Waanderland – a complex, personal and emotional adventure that is lyrical captivating with suprising musical twist and turns. It is indeed a Waanderland.” – Camilla Trodyb

30. The Sweet Release Of Death – The Blissful Joy Of Living (10 October, 2019)

“The Netherlands has been a hotbed of musical activity in recent years. The likes of Amber Arcades, Pip Blom, The Homesick and Iguana Death Cult have paved the way while this Rotterdam based three-piece spent the interim period honing their sound. The Blissful Joy Of Living represents their most recent venture, having already unleashed two long players while arguably displaying the trio’s panache for combining noise and melody to maximum effect. It might only encompass six compositions but there’s a once heard, never forgotten factor here that instantly draws comparisons with Daydream Nation, Without You I’m Nothing and Bug which in 2019 is about as good as it gets. What’s more, they’re over in the UK next month. As in next week! Don’t miss them!” – Dom Gourlay

31. Floating Points – Crush (18 October, 2019)

Sam Shepherd runs the full gamut, from original string arrangements, some cut up and treated with a Buchla synth, to ‘boots-n-cats-n-boots-n-cats’ techno beats. ‘LesAlpx’ gives a sensation of movement and travel reminiscent of Kraftwerk‘s marvellous, and oft overlooked, Tour De France Soundtracks. ‘Requiem of CS70 and Strings’ stands proudly with anything released by today’s best modern composers. Past Floating Points releases have ranged from full-on electronica, to psych jazz, on mostly traditional rock instruments, that would make any Dungen fan happy. Crush is the confluence of these explorations, and others, yet in no way has a “hey, look what I can do” feel to it. In a new age of singles, it stands as a body of work. The litmus test is I always listen to it from beginning to end, never skipping tracks. It is a perfect listen and deserves your attention.” – Alex Maiolo 

32. Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich – A Tangle Of Stars (25 October, 2019)

“I wasn’t familiar with Mary’s work before this, but I admire John’s playing in Deerhoof. The music on this record goes from exercises in euclidean math, to madrigal phrasing that reminds me of ’70s prog bands like Yes at times. Plus, as with any ‘Hoof related project, it goes in all sorts of other unexpected directions. This album is an absolute treasure.” – Alex Maiolo 

33. Fenella – Fenella (01 November, 2019)

“All three of Jane Weaver‘s last records rank among my favourites of the last decade. Fenella is a band comprised of Weaver and some long-time collaborators, but since it wasn’t released under her name, it flew right past me upon its release. Disaster was narrowly averted when it made its way into my life last week. I accidentally mistook the opening bars of ‘Bright Curse’ for Duran Duran‘s ‘Save A Prayer’, the song hooked me, Shazam hipped me to the fact that I’d missed a release from one of my favourite artists, and the entire album has been on repeat ever since, sprinting into my end-of-year best under the wire. Weaver is once again heavily mining motorik musik of the ’70s, psychedelia, and classic electronic music, but this time with a strong slathering of ambience. Cascading arpeggiators meet face-to-face with drones and airy vocals, culminating in something that sounds familiar but so utterly fresh as well. Why Weaver still resides in the world of critics and music nerds, and hasn’t fully burst through, occupying space on your cool Auntie’s smart phone, is one of the great injustices of modern music.” – Alex Maiolo

34. FKA twigs – MAGDALENE (08 November, 2019)

“What is there to say – built on the brilliance of her debut and shows it was no one-off.” – Michael Robert Williams

35. Isaac Wolf – Isaac Wolf (08 November, 2019)

“Brand new band, Isaac Wolf published their self-titled debut EP just last month, fresh from the studio, having worked with Brett Shaw (Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, etc). Lyrically, the EP is clearly a break-up record, with opening track ‘If This Isn’t Love’ asking ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ Across five finely crafted songs, with their haunting melodies and emotive string arrangements, the listener is taken on a journey from the realisation that a relationship isn’t working, to ‘Holding On’ and wanting someone to ‘Stay’. ‘Strangers’ acknowledges that ‘something changed’ but with final track ‘One Day’ there’s still a shred of hope. Isaac Wolf, whoever they are… please kick them out the door already!” – Sarah Hardy

So, there it is – our Top 35 albums and EPs of 2019. As for what we’re looking forward to in 2020… I know a couple of us, at the very least, are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the debut album by The Howl & The Hum! There’s also talk of Tame Impala‘s The Slow Rush, Working Men’s Club, who are putting out their as yet untitled debut album on Heavenly Recordings in June, plus the upcoming The Humanist album, due early 2020; a project orchestrated by Rob Marshall who used to play in Exit Calm and featuring contributions from Mark Lanegan, Dave Gahan and John Robb among others. What are you waiting for…?

Special thanks to the FMS team for their contributions: Alex Maiolo, Anders Knudsen, Camilla Trodyb, Dom Gourlay, Jimi Arundell, Michael Robert Williams and Mike Powell!

Intro: Alex Maiolo | Outro: Sarah Hardy