Alex Keane, Amy Kan, Esther Lu and Darcy Miller contributed reporting to this article.
Various music picked by our contributors as the best in 2019.
The Bigger Picture — There was a lot of great music released by a variety of young people across the globe; massive hits like Harry Styles' Lights Up, or more under-the-radar (but just as good) songs like Nuum's Kafka or Kogane's Traces EP. Our contributors have weighed in on the debate to pick their personal favourite youth music released over the course of this year; take a look at their selections below, along with Spotify playlists made up of each contributor's favourites.
Injury Reserve and Denzel Curry.
2019 and the decade comes to a close with amazing projects dropped this year from a variety of artists. Young artists this year consistently impressed with their projects. Denzel Curry’s ZUU encompassed his routes as a Miami based rapper with this project and with its focused sound he impressed many, subsequently earning himself Genius lyricist of the year.
The collective of Injury Reserve also dropped their first studio album self-titled “Injury Reserve”, which has features from JPEG, Rico Nasty, Amine and Freddie Gibbs. Heavily inspired from their past works, its imperfections make it a more realistic album that I fell in love with.
Clairo. Image courtesy of Pitchfork.
Clairo. A rendition of her name Claire Cottrill, the 21-year-old released her debut album Immunity this year. Known for her iconic bedroom pop sounds from her song such as Flaming Hot Cheetos, Clairo ventures out of this genre and into something deeper. Immunity explores themes like self discovery of her sexuality, or pouring out her personal experiences into songs. Cottrill’s debut single off the album is called Bags which changed the way her music sounded. The single included heavier guitars, sounding more like indie pop than bedroom pop. The heavy guitars add a layer of emotion to the song about unrequited love. The year 2019 seems so successful for the 21 year old singer, who went on tour in two continents alongside her album. Immunity shaped the way Cottrill’s music is perceived, reaching a larger audience and allowing Cottrill to express her personal stories in songs such as I Wouldn’t Ask You (about her arthritis) or Alewife (about her close suicide attempt).
Follow Amy on Instagram @amyckan.
Daniel Caesar performing "Get You" from his 2017 album Freudian. Image courtesy of YouTube/Daniel Caesar.
Following Daniel Caesar’s 2017 album release of Freudian which frames a narrative of love and existence, his newly released ten-track album builds a foundation on his soul roots.
Case Study 01 communicates Caesar’s highly philosophical and contemplative state. Emotions felt through his endeavours in an attempt to reconcile and reach absolution illicit a reflective response. The utilization of scientific metaphors and allusions to religion demonstrate the deliberateness and intention behind is lyrical decisions.
Similar to his previous works, Caesar features a myriad of artists in this album. Brandy, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Sean Leon and Jacob Collier make an appearance in four of the ten tracks included. The diversity of musical background held by these artists creates a unique sound with each of these pieces.
Overall, the breadth and depth of the employed lyrics in conjunction with the use of harmonic elements continue to captivate his audience and affirm his critically acclaimed persona.
Follow Esther on Instagram @estherrlu
A few artists whose music I selected as my favourites released this year; Exitpost, Iri, Harry Teardrop, Instupendo, and Lontalius.
There was so much great material released by artists this year that it is difficult to narrow it down to even a broad selection of favourites. But I think in this kind of platform it is best to herald and highlight artists who went under-appreciated in 2019. Undoubtedly, there were some great hits released by commercialised, mainstream artists; like Make it Right, a melodic, bright pop collaboration between American pop star Lauv and K-pop megastars BTS, and Pony, a beautiful, meandering bedroom pop album by Rex Orange County. But most of the best music released this year was from artists with more of a tight-knit, cult following.
Singular Balance’s Aura, is one such example, in which the Tokyo-based artist builds upon his background in ambient production to create an indie-pop album full of intimate vocals, poignant lyrics about his struggles with self-identity, and layered, complex instrumentals.
So is Instupendo’s EP “Boys by Girls”; Aiden Peterson underwent the same transformation as Singular Balance, from lofi producer to indie-chill vocalist. His vocals float over the self-produced EP, in which he tells stories of love and loss on tracks like Earring and Cinderella, with the vocals taking a back seat to his dreamy electronic production in singles like Pinch and Sugar.
“All I Have” by Lontalius, the New-Zealand-born singer-songwriter, is also a beautiful album - it is more polished than his debut album I’ll Forget 17, featuring production by the aforementioned Instupendo and Om’Mas Keith (producer of Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Channel Orange, as well as Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come), dominated by rhythmic drum beats, piano melodies and intimate vocals.
NYU student and artist Harry Teardrop’s debut album 1000 Backyard Pools creates vignettes of his life growing up in sunny California and a nostalgic, slightly mournful atmosphere. The “dreamo” (dream emo and pop) album’s best tracks are, in my opinion, the more mournful Dry and Catch, although Strawberry, a more uptempo, rocky track with vocals by Maxwell Young and production by Instupendo, gives my two favourite songs a run for their money. There is this burgeoning indie-pop scene developing, crossing countries, seas and continents, with artists like Instupendo and Maxwell Young at the forefront, with others like Singular Balance, Clairo (who worked with Maxwell Young previously), Lontalius, Roy Blair, Ryan Hemsworth, and Harry Teardrop, that is looking very promising.
Across in Toronto, Monsune’s eagerly-awaited R&B EP Tradition lived up to the hype, boasting beautiful production and powerful vocals; it was his first release since his hit debut single Nothing in Return.
There were also some great albums and singles released that were more electronic and ambient in nature, like Exitpost’s Two Dreamers, in which he explores his self-identity as a Japanese-American split between the two countries, continents, and cultures. It is a diverse album, with energetic drum-and-bass tracks like New Moon Phase, electronic-tracks backed with traditional Japanese instruments on Every Day Is About You, angelic female vocals from ESAE, Hanae and Unmo and a beautiful final song, Dream of Home, which is almost movie-soundtrack like. It features moving piano melodies, atmospheric ambient sampling, and bilingual dialogue with the same message; “we were two dreamers. Every day you dream of home, and every day I dream of you”. In fact, that may be my favourite album of the year.
Besides that, Potsu’s Ivy League, a more jazz-style album from the former XXXTentacion producer, Aqualina’s nostalgic, haunting piano soundscapes on her EP Illusions of Happiness and Idealism’s ethereal, goosebump-inducing single Forever in My Mind, featuring earthly, almost spiritual synths from SwuM and sampled vocals from Malaysian R&B artist Yuna, were highlights.
There was also some music that was more “mainstream” that, while flying under-the-radar, should, in my opinion, be right at the top of music charts across the globe, like British rapper Slowthai’s deeply political debut album Nothing Great About Britain. Northampton-born-and-bred Slowthai puts across intelligent opinions in the album, cutting to the core of Britain’s constitutional crisis, its monarchy, and its rampant inequality. The best singles, though, are the more intimate, vulnerable, slow-paced Ladies (in which he explores traditional gender roles and his single-mother-upbringing), Gorgeous, and Missing.
Tokyo-based pop artist Iri’s album Shade was also great, dominated by Iri’s powerful, soulful, unique vocals and fast-paced, energetic electronic production. Rich Brian’s The Sailor deserved much higher ratings from music critics; it was a culmination of his development from ironic dark-comedy vines to serious music. He experiments with vocals on Bekon-produced singles like Yellow and Drive Safe, and celebrates his Indonesian identity on old-school boom-bap record Kids, which brings to mind Jay-Z and Kanye’s iconic tunes from decades gone by.
Additionally, Thai singer-songwriter’s uplifting single Hello Anxiety, released in March, is arguably just as good as the smash-hit which fast-tracked his rise to prominence, Lover Boy. In Hello, Anxiety, Vipruit’s smooth vocals glide over the bright, guitar-heavy instrumental.
In conclusion, there was so much great material released this year, and there’s much to be excited about next year, especially with Idealism’s EP coming in spring and a collaborative EP with Lontalius and Singular Balance releasing sometime next year (Alive, their first single from that album, released in early December, is an incredible track). The “indie-pop” scene of Lontalius, Instupendo, Singular Balance and others is something special to watch, and it will be interesting to see how they develop, and hopefully collaborate even further, over the coming decade.
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