2019 has been transformative for many in the music scene, from indies to megastars. This month, Parvati Magazine reflects on some of the favourite and most memorable albums of the year.
Banners, “Where The Shadow Ends”
Michael Joseph Nelson, a.k.a the alternative pop singer Banners, released his debut full-length album “Where the Shadow Ends” this fall with Island Records. It’s a celebration of the power of love to bring courage, confidence and endurance.
For the title track, Banners joined forces with the Vancouver-based DJ duo Young Bombs, who have opened for The Chainsmokers and remixed tracks for Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga and Nick Jonas. With lines like “Underneath the roaring of the storm / I can hear the breaking of the dawn”, it builds from piano and vocals to anthemic, dancefloor-inspired fullness.
The other collaboration on this album is the duet “No One Knows Us” with the Arizonan singer Carly Paige, also recently seen with 3LAU, Fly By Midnight and Lokii. The single “Got It In You” featured on an episode of the ABC drama “The Good Doctor”, with the empathetic “You can’t tell that you’re bigger / Than the sea that you’re sinking in / And you don’t know what you / Got but you got it at your fingertips.” The final track, “Heads and Tails”, is a quiet, acoustic conclusion for a thoughtful album full of heart and daring.
Sigrid, “Sucker Punch”
Norwegian pop singer Sigrid looked up to Joni Mitchell when she was younger. Today, she sings with a soprano voice that’s like Mitchell in all the best ways. Sigrid first came to our attention with the exuberant 2017 single “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, which charted in Norway, Australia and the UK, and is now one of the tracks on the full-length album “Sucker Punch”, out in March 2019 from Island Records. The title track is her playful description of falling in love: “It hit me like a sucker punch / Just one look and I’m out of touch / I’m freaking out ’cause I’m scared this might end bad / But I still come back for that / Sucker punch.”
The single “Strangers”, which went platinum in the UK this March is an irrepressibly danceable anthem to wishful thinking. Sigrid told NME, “A lot of people–especially people my age–want things to be perfect, and therefore you lie to yourself. For instance, you think, ‘this romantic relationship is so good,’ but then it turns out that it’s not. You just wanted it to be.” However, it took her spirited and hooky “Don’t Feel Like Crying” to crack the top 10 in the US. “Wallowing in it would be such a waste,” Sigrid sings in the music video as she jumps up on the chairs of a waiting room with a grin. “That isn’t gonna fix it anyway.”
Sigrid has an endearingly frank, no-fuss attitude. In “Basic”, she sings, “Let’s be real, I’m just saying / If you feel it, don’t cage it / Ooh, I wanna be basic / ‘Cause you make me so complicated / Can I be basic with you?”
Taylor Swift, “Lover”
The opening moments of Taylor Swift’s video “Me!” sums up the transformation she’s been through in the past year. In it, a snake (a symbol she embraced for her previous album “Reputation”) looms toward the camera and opens its mouth—then explodes into iridescent butterflies. In the combative “Reputation”, Swift seemed to make a point of being harder than her old personae. But with “Lover”, her first on Republic Records after breaking from her former label Big Machine, she’s let go of the need to act tough and is secure in her bright-hued self. On the video for the title track, Swift is literally at home with her past selves, showing each in a differently coloured room of a large house.
“I know I’m a handful, baby,” she sings in “Me!”, a duet with Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco. “I never leave well enough alone.” But she goes on, “I’m the only one of me. / Baby, that’s the fun of me.”
“I’ve been sleeping so long in a twenty year dark night,” Swift sings on the track “Daylight”, “And now I see daylight.” It’s the new, sunlit Taylor we hear in a spoken word coda at the end of the song: “I want to be defined by the things that I love. Not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I just think that… you are what you love.”
Bishop Briggs, “Champion”
UK-based indie artist Bishop Briggs used to wear her hair in trademark “space buns” on either side of her head. But when a friend went through chemotherapy in 2018, she shaved them off in solidarity—and she’s kept the buzz-cut ever since. This look lends to the fierceness of her November 2019 album “Champion”, which avoids the self-pity pitfalls of many breakup records and delivers incandescence. Briggs told AP, “What would my life and world be like if I saw that my vulnerability was power?” Shorn, blazing-eyed and her heart wide open to all the rage and grief of love lost, she sings the answer. The unstoppable, ferociously hooky title track forms the first half of a two-part music video story about a woman striding into a bar to settle a score. The second half of the story is told in the gospel-choir-backed “Tattooed on My Heart”: the score to settle is a jilting at the altar.
“CHAMPION” doesn’t depart from Briggs’s already bold and personal 2016 album “Church of Scars”. It just sharpens it into even clearer focus.
Michael Kiwanuka, “Kiwanuka”
British-Ugandan soul singer Michael Kiwanuka’s latest album, “Kiwanuka”, dropped November 1 from Polydor and Interscope to immense critical and popular acclaim. The Guardian called it “one of the greatest albums of the decade”.
Maybe it’s the sense of familiarity that comes with retro sounds, combined with the artistry that keeps those sounds fresh and alive in 2019. Maybe it’s the authenticity of a musician who courageously keeps showing up to bare his soul even in the face of his demons. Whatever it is, there’s a profound rightness that resonates through the whole album, from the first beats and guitar licks of “You Ain’t The Problem”, through the welling-up strings on the chorus of “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)”, and the relentless grief and rage of “Hero”, to the resolve of “Light” where “All of my fears are gone, baby, gone”.
New albums to check out this month:
Olafur Arnalds, “re:visions”
(Mercury KX/Universal Music Canada, November 15, 2019):
An atmospheric offering of experimental music from this Icelandic composer, musician and producer, “re:visions” presents live performances from Lisboa, Berlin, Leicester, London, Amsterdam and Munich, combining strings and piano with electronic mixing and beats.
Coldplay, “Everyday Life”
(Parlophone, November 22, 2019):
The warm, compassionate title track released November 2 promised what frontman Chris Martin told BBC was “our reaction to the perceived negativity that’s everywhere… there’s also so much great life happening.” A double album with discs named “Sunrise” and Sunset” runs the gamut from stadium-fillers “Church” and “Champion of the World” to introspective “Daddy” and dabbling into other genres with “Guns” and “Arabesque”.
Leonard Cohen, “Thanks for the Dance”
(Sony Music Canada, November 22, 2019):
Cohen worked on several songs with his son Adam (producer of Cohen’s previous album “You Want It Darker”) before his passing in 2016. Collaborators Beck, Javier Mas, Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry joined Adam to complete this posthumous album.