Ottawa Life Magazine’s Best albums of 2019
#10: Amyl and the Sniffers — Amyl and the Sniffers (Melbourne, Australia)
It's nearly impossible to cut a new niche in hard rock these days, but by golly, Amyl and the Sniffers found a way this year. The whole album is like the intensity of a flame somehow converted into music, and through all the shredding of "Starfire 500" you can really feel that. The in-your-face vocals of "GFY" and the poignant lyricism of "Gacked on Anger" leave pretense in the dust and make a statement, that's what's so brilliant about this record. And when you need that stomping riff-rocker, "Monsoon Rock" lets you get unbelievably stupid and let it all out. With all the violence in the sound and menace to the lyricism on this record, by the time you get to the sweetness of "Got You" it feels so earnest that it makes even the most riveting love song feel saccharine by comparison.
#9: Stella Donnelly — Beware of the Dogs (Perth, Australia)
It's hard enough to make you laugh in a song, so it's insane how well Stella Donnelly manages to sway between humour, commentary and tear jerking storytelling. Amidst a lot of great music and perfect delivery across the board, tackling elderly male entitlement in the upbeat grooves of "Old Man" is just the tip of the iceberg. Heck the soft love songs even have an energy to them that will have you on the edge of tears, as "Allergies" and "Mosquito" will either have you grinning like a fool or bawling at how tangible their worlds feel. Even when it gets overtly political on "Beware of the Dogs" Donnelly lets out the right punk side of her emotions to make the more theatrical rock work. I also can't state enough how important "Boys Will Be Boys" is in our world of victim blaming and toxic masculinity, honestly this song hits hard enough that it can be too much at times, in a good way. And going into the holidays, the grueling reality check of how draining family can be on "Season's Greetings" has made this record all the more relevant going into the end of the year.
#8: Gurr — She Says (Berlin, Germany)
As a stellar live discovery this year, I was enthralled to hear how wondrous Gurr's songs sounded on record. There's melancholy and a little fun rock within songs like "She Says" and "Middleton Mall" but it was the layering of emotional noise and the darkness of their storytelling that hooked me deeply. With seven songs to its name, this LP was all killer no filler, and several of these songs straddled that line of sounding reminiscent of other bands without ripping them off to the point that I'd felt like I'd been singing along to them for ages. I really don't know where "Bye Bye" was my whole life but from its discordant harmonies, sassy delivery and a simple rock chug that made its lyrics feel mythical, it's an effortless hit. Besides, with the emotional highs and lows on "Of Hollywood" Gurr not only envelops you, but transports in their music.
#7: Angel Olsen — All Mirrors (Asheville, North Carolina)
While I'd thought Angel Olsen might start to repeat herself after My Woman, she kicks so hard out the gate on All Mirrors that I genuinely got goose bumps. As you pass through "Lark" and "All Mirrors" the sway of rock and orchestra can easily make you forget that 10 minutes has gone by and you're only two songs deep. With a more crooner-like approach this time around, "Summer" and "Endgame" have a depth that some earlier sparse tracks might leave to the silence between notes. And Olsen never ceases to give you a moment to move a little like on "Too Easy." The true strength here however is how heavily Olsen is pushing her own voice and the arrangements around her for a heavy emotional experience. So while this intensity will likely push it above other records on this list in the long-run, its unapologetically dense sequencing just hasn't had me hitting replay quite like the other records here.
#6: Tove Lo — Sunshine Kitty (Djursholm, Sweden)
While Tove Lo's music has always been a fun exploration of how brutally explicit and honest a Top 40 record could be, it's never felt as satisfying as Sunshine Kitty. Tracks like "Glad He's Gone" flip the breakup song to support a friend through brutal realities, while "Really Don't Like You" masterfully involved Kylie Minogue to explore the fallout between partners new and old. It's however the sectioning of the album that breaks it up between heartfelt singles, dark club sections and downbeat meditations, that makes it a journey on some listens and occasionally tiring on others. But with the heft of "Sweettalk My Heart," "Jacques" and "Mistaken" to show every feel has a song to get you into it, it's more a matter of how you feel at the time.
#5: Mark Ronson — Late Night Feelings (London/Los Angeles)
Mark Ronson has always had some of my favourite tracks of the year, but this year he managed to finally let loose an album that blended hits and a larger story. A showcase of not only the talent on hand, but knowing how to manage those voices, you can easily drift between Lykke Li, Yebba and even Miley Cyrus without feeling like you're on shuffle. While the smoke of "Late Night Feelings" is brilliant, there's a raw emotion that makes something like "Pieces of Us" shine. And the shimmering keyboards keep everything tight and together, and allow everyone to feel part of a larger chorus of heartbreak and worry. While I was utterly intoxicated by the sounds of Angel Olsen's "True Blue" the song would only get more infectious as it went. Plus the way Ronson could adapt his sounds to make a Alicia Keys "Truth" feel so rugged and bass-driven speaks to how easily he can make a single and a record into one unit.
#4: Altin Gün — Gece (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Probably my favourite overall band discovery of the year, Altin Gün presented more great modern takes on Turkish pop this year. The twist this time around was a more a galactic feel overall, with synths letting their great dance rhythms take on a whole new life. Nothing sums this up better than the poppy bounce of "Vay Dünya" as a half-dozen riffs collide into a beautiful track that can make anyone get up. However they played with more hard rock tones too, resulting in the exotic magic of "Leyla" which always has another punchy moment to surprise you with. There's such a richness on this record that even the opening shrills from the band add a life that so many bands miss out on. And while even I've had trouble learning all the words to their music as a fan, tracks like "Kolbasti" assured I always had a few moments to scream out without fail. Plus Altin Gün managed to transcend as a simple covers group by the end here with the synth voyages in their close to leave you wondering what's next.
#3: Chemical Brothers — No Geography (Manchester, U.K.)
Though I'd had trouble sinking into a Chemical Brothers record fully before, No Geography showed both a sense of cohesion and ambition I hadn't seen in them before. A virtually perfect travelling record, this album is brimming with sonic movement that will keep you enthralled. "Eve of Destruction" keeps a sense of abrasiveness to their electronica sounds, as Norwegian singer is twisted into a demonic specter. And with this flowing into the contagious booms of "Bango" Aurora plays between the beauty and growl that the Chemical Brothers got from her. Though tracks like "Got to Keep On" suggested a kind of fashion show stomp and "Free Yourself" were more performance art on record, you could constantly feel the overall piece working. But if nothing else grabbed you, the vintage-meets-EDM fusion of something like "We've Got To Try" assured that the duo was still taking things to new limits.
#2: Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated (Mission, B.C.)
As a step from fun pop for everyone, to adult songs with a Top-40 appeal, Dedicated feels like Carly Rae Jepsen truly evolving to her strongest form. Though it feels like an album completely made of singles, there is a through-line within the record that makes it feel better as a full record. It can almost be tiring to go through the solid bangers of "Julien," "No Drug Like Me" and "Now That I Found You" given how continuously they keep you dancing. And it was really awesome to see Jepsen unabashedly get lewd for once on "Want You In My Room" while still feeling peppy and bouncy. Ultimately this is a dance record for fun and one that is best enjoyed with others, but there are so many hooks that you'll probably bond most over all the parts you've memorized as a fan alone. So whether it's the high notes of "Feels Right" or the melancholy grooves of "Too Much" the party never stops, even when it's sad.
#1: Tyler, The Creator — Igor (Ladera Heights, California)
Whether it was the heavy style change or simply the top-to-bottom song writing wallop packed in, Tyler, The Creator's latest offering swept me over this year. With lo-fi-indie chops meshing with hip hop on "Igor's Theme" to the throwback R&B of "Earfquake" the record was opening on tones we'd only heard Tyler hint at before. And this is a record that flowed together beautifully, whether it was music, voice clips or its handfuls of guest vocalists. "New Magic Wand" showed us that Tyler was not only transcending as a performer, but a producer too, since the song constantly rotated energies and layers like a fine piece of baking. Between details like raucous drums of "I Think" to the light bounce of "Thank You" this record always gives you something fresh. And with the brilliance in concepts like "A Boy is a Gun" Tyler proves himself an artist that is firing on all cylinders creatively now.