2019’s year in music went by so quickly, some albums blur into multiple years because of their ability to withstand time based on how good they are; and we may be a little bias to the indie and R&B/hip hop genres but alas, the albums below will, in our opinion, have this durability too.
James Blake, Assume Form
Written for his girlfriend, Jameela Jamil, Assume Form is a love letter from James Blake in the form of music, or rather, an ode to the one he loves. In the opening track, titled by the album, Blake sings that he “will assume form”, “be touchable…be reachable”, committing to becoming more open and communicative. Rapper Travis Scott and producer Metro Boomin feature on Mile High, a popular track, the opposite sound you would expect from James Blake, until his features on the Black Panther album saw him immerse well into the hip hop sphere. Into the Red is a continuation of the romantic ode. Blake sings about Jamil being “the gold rush”, the one to go ‘into the red’ (above and beyond) for him, and he concludes that he has to “keep her in my life”.
The album’s feature with Latin singer, Rosalia, sees her tranquil and temptress voice trill over the track Barefoot in the Park, caressing Blake’s voice against the bongo drum sounds in the background. What makes this album a beautiful surprise like a well-wrapped present, is the way that the sounds intermix together as though it shouldn’t work, except that it does; Blake is brilliant with that. Can’t Believe The Way We Flow is a symphonic, electro serenade, with the croon, “you are my fear of death”. Blake also has the renowned André 3000 feature on the track, Where’s The Catch?, with a repetitive piano and rap flow mashed together for an angelic collaboration. Undeniably the most sentimental song on the LP, I’ll Come Too is a romancing dream of Blake following his lover who wants to travel, committing to “go under your wing” supported by the haunting, angelic hums throughout the track.
Bass undertones in Power On and lyrics recognising his love for his partner alone, “let’s go home and talk shit about everyone”, makes for another favourite track, as Blake’s voice repetitively and lustily croons the confirmation, “if it feels like a home, power on”. Don’t Miss It is another key song, popular for its haunting background falsetto and the atmospherical jazz and warmth from 3:10 seconds onwards from a piano and Blake’s warning not to “miss it“, life with your favourite person. Lastly, the track titles alone are poetic if not the least, and resemble a story and order of events of love growing, ending with Mulholland and a Lullaby For My Insomniac.
Lana Del Rey, Norman F***ing Rockwell!
The poetic, lyrical songstress came full circle to her Born to Die roots in 2019 with Norman F****ing Rockwell!. Another love song to America and California, both of which Lana is patriotic, the album also depicts a love to an idealised, but difficult “man child”. With ballads such as Love Song romantically penned, “the taste, the touch, the way we love, it all comes down to make the sound of our love song”, Del Rey continues to express melancholy well when we don’t have the words to. Bluesy, rich, ethereal, whispery and original, only Lana could tell you to “kiss the sky and whisper to Jesus” and you would do just that.
Summer Walker, Over It
With a honey-dewed, silky smooth R&B voice, Summer Walker debuted her first studio album with popular response from many. Labelled a break-up and empowerment album, Over It is raw, stripped back and real, giving audiences the authenticity that existed in 90s R&B. The likes of R&B artists Bryson Tiller, 6LACK, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Jhené Aiko appear on the album, including a remix of Girls Need Love from Drake, and a sample of Usher’s You Make Me Wanna on fifth track, Come Thru.
Popular for its relatable lyrics and love stories, the album weaves a sad but all too well known tale of blossoming and failed romance. The 23-year-old’s vocals hit strong on Tonight, running along the spacey and atmospherical beat track, which is held consistently across the LP. The second half of Drunk Dialing…LODT slows down to reenact a drunk dial as the R&B star reveals her soulful range, singing on “but love makes sense of you” with flawless ad libs. Walker lets go on Just Might, a real ‘fuck love’ anthem, singing that she “just might be a hoe” because what else is she missing when “love is a losing game”? Stretch You Out goes further, opening with lofi hip hop beats reminiscent of Sza; this song confronts the man at first for wanting sex but not giving pleasure back, and for bringing up another girl constantly, actions that have become more known in feminist discourse. The sexual innuendo “we gon’ stretch you out, out, out, out, out” carries like a spell as Walker’s voice is heavy, sunken and brassy in one.
A personal favourite on the album, I’ll Kill You with Jhéne Aiko is real and honest, 10/10 vocalised, classic R&B. Walker sings her commitment and possession, “I’m gang ’bout you, ain’t playing no games ’bout you”, with goosebump-inspiring ad libs and vocal range leading up to the fiery, “I’ll go to hell and jail about you boy” culminating in the stunning harmonising of ‘boy’ from Walker and Aiko. The “waiting so long for a love like this” sounds unique, special and a surpass of every emotion reflected in the two voices singing on going to bat for their person, being unable to resist the strong feelings and right energy, a heightened, celebration of passionate love and the want to keep hold of this. From beginning to end, Walker’s talent speaks volumes as she also operates as a storyteller that has resonated with audiences, making Over It a must-listen in 2019.
Doja Cat, Hot Pink
From pop, rap, R&B, and electro undertones, Doja Cat touches a range of genres in this album, showcasing just how diverse her singing voice is, not solely talented for her rap, creating a well-rounded body of work. Tracks such as Addiction, reflect Doja Cat’s ability to appear as though she is featuring in her own songs as another artist down to her flare to adapt her voice to different rhythms and genres, going from an electro feel for this track and back to her recognisable, influenced rap style. In the following track, Streets, Doja Cat takes on a sultry songstress voice, reminiscent of FKA Twigs and The Weeknd combined, in opposition to the vibes of the previous tracks on the album.
Sampling Blink-182 on the song, Bottom Bitch, and featuring rapper Gucci Mane on the infectious Like That, Doja Cat has cultivated a well-encompassed album, having quit smoking weed to make her second debut, after her stoner, laid back persona. From the pop current beats in Cyber Sex to the vocal interchanges and sex appeal followed into Won’t Bite with Smino, the infectious summery Say So that could have easily been a Calvin Harris track, the rhythmic Talk Dirty with a Childish Gambino flow as Doja repeats “grinding on ya’ face”, the effervescent Shine with a chorus of Rihanna-sounding vocals, and the mellowed down Better Than Me lullabied guitar paired with self-loving lyrics. Despite the resembling artists in her styles (Nicki Minaj is usually compared), Doja Cat has come into her own in Hot Pink, self-defining her artistry in her deft versatility, kookiness and increasing appeal to audiences. I’ll leave you with this great rendition of Rules in the Boiler Room.
Beyoncé, Homecoming: The Live Album
Besides working on the Everything is Love album under the joint force, The Carters, just a year before, and releasing The Lion King: The Gift album in 2019 too, Beyoncé somehow found time to manufacture the incredible Homecoming. She made a film from her Coachella set, she choreographed her performance, and she gave us this album. With forty (!!) live tracks, a marching band set up, a powerhouse voice and Queenly status, the surprise drop of the Homecoming live album was a gift from Beyoncé and a key moment for 2019. Filled with increasingly popular tidbits of dialogue as interludes, such as So Much Damn Swag and Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing featuring Blue Ivy, Beyoncé’s cool, southern drawl lingers and permeates the album leaving an awe-inspiring presence.
The transition to the throwback Me, Myself & I midway in Sorry leaves both listeners and viewers floored, but most importantly, empowered. Mi Gente keeps the LP’s energy at maximum with Beyoncé bringing J Balvin on stage to perform alongside her for his song. The singer and performer executes song transitions well, including the reggae You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) with Sister Nancy’s ‘bam bam, bam bam dilla’ as a backdrop to proceed into Hold Up which is cut short to jump into the highly energised Countdown supported by the trumpets of the marching band. Check On It is a beloved throwback to the days where Bey was seen in Pink Panther and pulling off all pink outfits and aviators. Deja Vu sees Jay-Z join Beyoncé for a bass-centric, jazz-fused anthem culminating in a charged recognition to the song, Greenlight.
Featuring a triad of songs from the Destiny’s Child era, Kelly Rowland and Michelle join Beyoncé for Lose My Breath, Say My Name, and Soldier. The live album has the ability to go from one bop to another as Beyoncé reimagines her hits and simultaneously sustains a high energy and bravado voice throughout the hour and fifty minute performance, whilst premiering a new track. The dance craze created from new track Before I Let Go, the cover of the 1981 song from Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, persisted for what seemed like the entire summer as the infectious beat of the chorus encourages dance and movement just as watching Beyoncé does. Beychella was real, and saw the first black woman to headline Coachella’s stage with a huge celebration of blackness, a historic moment in music.
The Canadian producer’s third LP dropped in December, a little late to live its full glory in 2019, but is sure to gain its limelight in 2020 with each back to back track being a combination of smooth bass, funk-tastic beats, and R&B voices in unison with electro vibrations. DO IT opens the album with bubbling, breezy sounds and chorus samplings, a track which you would expect to hear in Oxford Street Topshop and rooftop bars. 2 The Music is similarly resplendent, helped along with the vocals of Iman Omari and the deep bass, creating an atmospheric funk song. Bubba also features R&B stars SiR, Mick Jenkins, Kali Uchis, Masego, VanJess, Estelle, Charlotte Day Wilson, GoldLink, Tinashe and Pharrell Williams – a sparkling lineup if I ever saw one.
The surprises of the album include the genre change from funk and R&B leaning towards electro pop in Puff Lah and Scared To Death, two tracks that incorporate fiddly but infectious repetitions and under water echo sounds. Need It features Masego’s sweet vocals and rap against the bass which transitions smoothly into the skipping dance beat of Taste with Nigerian-American sisters VanJess. Kaytranada’s trademark drums and bassline foundation is continued on What You Need, a dance bop and funk mix featuring the honey-toned voice of Charlotte Day Wilson, who has collaborated on popular tracks with BADBADNOTGOOD and Daniel Caesar. Vex Oh featuring Eight9fly, GoldLink, and Ari PenSmith, is a mixture of afrobeats and electronica, making for a sweet club tune for both genres. Culture maintains the addictive vibe of Bubba, whilst The Worst In Me featuring Tinashe captures the essence of a good club and festival song with Kaytranada’s synths holding court on the chorus. Picking the songs apart however, would be unjust to the album as a body of work which flows coherently together as though in one DJ set.