Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
5. SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds
To an extent, the fact that SeeYouSpaceCowboy are still relatively early in their career does a bit to explain why this album flew so far under the radar this year, but at the same time, The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds is the sort of shock to the system that underground metalcore has become increasingly good at delivering, and SeeYouSpaceCowboy are easily among the best doing it. Connie Sgarbossa has already established herself as one of the scene’s true rising superstars, with a malleable shriek that bends perfectly to a surprisingly diverse instrumental palette that can feel unashamedly like a throwback at times, but never comes close to being dated or forced. Really, it’s just a matter of time before more of the underground catches wind of how great SeeYouSpaceCowboy are, and when that moment comes, exceptional things surely await.
4. Dave Hause – Kick
Dave Hause is by no means an underrated artist, but given that Kick proved to be an exception return to form this year, it’s a bit perplexing why it hasn’t prevailed like it should. Granted, it’s hardly a complex or layered listen in its embrace of the singer-songwriter mould that’s been Hause’s bread and butter for a while now, but he really does do it better than most, whether that’s in a more driven alt-rock and punk presentation, lyrics that can tow the line between crowd-pleasing anthemia and richer imagery with ease, and an uncanny knack for writing truly fantastic hooks that just refuse to leave once they’re lodged in there. It’s straight to the point, and that’s where it’s greatest strengths lie, to the point where it’s a real shame that not nearly enough people have realised that.
3. Le Butcherettes – bi/MENTAL
It’s been an interesting time for a band like Le Butcherettes, a band whose off-kilter, post-punk-inflicted garage-rock should’ve found a pretty good home for itself in 2019 of all years, but really hasn’t done that. It’s a shame too, because bi/MENTAL has only continued to be a fantastic album, if one that can lean heavily into its self-perceived lack of mainstream-friendliness with moments that can be difficult or uncomfortable to listen to, but really pack an emotional punch regardless. Between the self-ripping lyrical angle and an electrified presentation that that’s almost consistently thrilling with new angles at each turn, Le Butcherettes proved this year that they’re one of the most vital breakthroughs around, and the sooner more people catch on to that, the better.
2. Gender Roles – Prang
With a group of bands in 2019 looking to break directly into the higher tiers of the British rock ecosystem, it can be argued that few bands made a more resounding first impression than Gender Roles. Even while Prang received its fair amount of acclaim, there’s definitely the case to be made that Gender Roles primed themselves for the stratospheric rise of a Creeper or a Marmozets this year, and the fact they didn’t quite achieve that with an album as fantastic as this is a little disheartening. That’s not to take anything away from a real alt-punk gem that’s only proceeded to age remarkably well, particularly in the hook-writing department that’s the clearest path to stardom awaiting this band in the near future. Particularly with an album like this, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Gender Roles are going to be a significantly present force over the next few years, and their increased rise is only going to get even better to witness.
1. Telethon – Hard Pop
In a just world, Telethon would be one of the biggest, most successful bands around. They’ve got the wide-eyed exuberance, layers of depth and instrumental polish and gold-plated melodic chops to appeal to more or less anyone, and while Hard Pop has earned its well-deserved acclaim amongst the indie-punk circles this year, an album this good deserves to hit the wider stage with no intention of ever leaving. It’s the sort of instantly lovable album that delivers pop-rock that’s overflowing with wit and intelligence to a far greater degree that’s been seen in some time, and Telethon’s quirky, theatrical twinkles only add to the experience without being mawkish or trite. It’s quite simply an incredible feat of pop-rock done right; not to spoil anything, but it’s one of the best albums of the year for a reason.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
5. Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
Releasing an album in January can be a hard sell for making it onto year-end lists – yes, you have more time for your songs to settle into listeners’ consciousness, but it’s much easier to be forgotten by the time December rolls around. But the billowing indie-pop on Maggie Rogers’ debut Heard It In A Past Life have stuck around for the past twelve months – it’s the confessional pop artists like Ed Sheeran blew up making but made sonically interesting from the get-go. Heart-on-sleeve lyrics punctuated by synth samples and versatile electronic production make these songs feel free-spirited in their own little corner of the ever-expanding pop scene, with crossover songs like the stadium-ready Light On showing a potential to reach the heights of those like Sheeran. It may be a case of her star being slightly too small to garner instant rewards, but it definitely feels like Rogers didn’t get the love she deserved this year.
4. Kehlani – While We Wait
Media attention has drifted away from Kehlani since her break from music following the birth of her daughter earlier in the year (a period which ended just a few days ago with the singer dropping single All Me with Kat Deluna), with gorgeous mixtape While We Wait, released in February, being unjustly left off many year-end lists thus far. Kehlani herself sounds infectious and commanding as ever, particularly on some of her most emotional lyrics to date. For every Footsteps or Nights Like This, there’s a Nunya or Morning Glory which preach self-respect with a grin, and almost every song on the record is instantly likeable. While We Wait is one of the best artists in her genre at the moment continuing to be great, something she’s not getting enough praise for.
3. Brutus – Nest
Nest saw Belgian trio Brutus take their already-solid framework of fusing metal, punk and pop elements to the next level this year. Straight from opening track Fire, the expansion when it comes to production as well as the scope for who these songs are meant to be played for is clear. Stephanie Mannaerts is still a total force, doing more vocally than ever before, while the full band effort frequently going from an onslaught of thundering guitars and drums to more mellow passages all while experimenting with different sounds (like the bass stabs throughout Techno or War’s almost tender intro) is such an indication of how much Brutus have bettered musically since debut album Burst. It has felt like the way to best experience Brutus is out of the way and mouth agape for a long time, so it’s a shame that they’re still not everywhere in rock music even with Nest’s level of refinement.
2. King Princess – Cheap Queen
She was touted as ‘one to watch’ for most of 2019, but the hype around King Princess seemed to disappear once her debut album dropped. It’s understandable why more pop-based media moved away from covering Cheap Queen – the songs on these aren’t instant bangers like much of her EP work was, but more thoughtful jams that often lean more into soul and R&B than they do into pop. And they’re so well done. Songs like Ain’t Together and Homegirl are sweet and conversational while still being mature enough to convey the nuances of relationships in a matter-of-fact yet vulnerable way. Prophet is delightfully soulful and hazy while Hit The Back is bucketloads of fun, and not one track feels inauthentic. Combine this with the fact King Princess is unabashedly queer and you’ve got the perfect musical icon for this time period – people just need to realise it.
1. Cultdreams – Things That Hurt
While Seafoam was a solid record, it felt like Cultdreams still had something of a way to go. Things That Hurt is a step up in every way, seeing the duo show off their improved musicianship and make bolder musical choices that really pay off and elevate their blend of punk and shoegaze to whole new levels. Born An Underdog, Still Living One is an absolutely stunning track whose apex hits you straight in the chest, while Not My Generation and We Never Rest showcase the harsher side of the duo while never compromising the pretty (the latter helped along by members of The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die). The frankness of Things That Hurt when it comes to social issues is some of the most intelligent and rousing of the year (of course it is, considering the crop of trailblazers in that area which Cultdreams belong to), and it’s really sold by Lucinda Livingstone no matter which side of their vocal delivery they’re using, in a much more convincing and engaging way than many of bands who use social justice as a selling point. This record feels important, and it should have gotten much more attention than it did in 2019.
Words by Luke Nuttall and Georgia Jackson