Video links are in the headings below.
I’ve been a fan of Tinashe for years. I started really enjoying her work around the time she released Songs for You in 2019. The production on her songs are unique, immaculate, and seem to draw from a variety of genres, from DnB (Shy Guy) to Skepta (Bouncin’). She is now an independent artist, and this release is her fifth album. If you enjoy music by Kehlani, SZA, and alternative R&B, you will love this.
2. Renaissance, Beyonce, Columbia Records.
Beyoncé’s first single from Renaissance did not win me over initially. I listened to Renaissance in full on a train journey to Manchester. The transitions between songs, especially from ENERGY to BREAK MY SOUL and Beyoncé’s (seemingly Ariana Grande influenced) verse on THIQUE (Bey Hive, correct me if I’m wrong). Lyrically rich and original (the line ‘drip intravenous shocked me) with textured samples, production, and cohesion, Renaissance is a classic album following Beyoncé’s string of impeccable releases since 2012. My friend introduced me to Beyoncé’s self-titled album, and I remember watching the visuals for XO, Flawless, and Pretty Hurts, and feeling as though I was watching a film. When Lemonade was released in 2016, my entire film class was talking about it, wondering about the truth behind the lyrics, and surprised that Beyoncé would release a project like this. For older Beyoncé fans, her last few releases have been a long time coming.
Soccer Mommy saw me through COVID. I learned about the new wave of singer-songwriters in early 2019, when I was recovering from a long-term illness. Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Marten, Julien Baker, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail; listening to these artists as I walked in parks provided me comfort and felt like a little secret. I can’t imagine recommending Phoebe Bridgers now without having something to say about her personal life; it wasn’t like that back then. Sometimes, Forever plays with shoegaze, avant garde rock, and her more mainstream alt rock flavours first enhanced in her 2020 album: Colour Theory. I was lucky enough to see her live this year, and it was wonderful. Her lyrics are poetic in their choice of metaphor and imagery, and she focuses on a rich, cohesive sound first and foremost.
4. Blue Water Road, Kehlani, Atlantic Records.
Kehlani is one of my favourite songwriters of all time; having mastered the balance between confessional and rhythmic, making the listener feel as though they are the only one who has heard it. I’ve loved Kehlani since SweetSexySavage (2017), and like a few of my queer friends, became interested in her music because she is beautiful, and those tattoos! I love the theme of Blue Water Road, and it feels like her most neat project in terms of song writing and structure. This is one of my favourite releases this year, and I listen to it regularly.
Taylor Swift won a lot of new fans with this album. So much so, her tour tickets sold out in seconds, and the majority of her fans couldn’t get to see the artist they had supported since 2008. My mum downloaded Fearless (2008) for me when I got an iPod Nano, and I’ve loved her ever since. Despite not being keen on Reputation (2017) and Lover (2019), her twin albums, Folklore (2020) and Evermore (2020), caused me to pay attention again. Taylor Swift’s longevity and integrity as an artist (if not a climate activist) was solidified by her release of Red (Taylor’s Version) (2021), demonstrating that even non-single tracks, or bonus tracks, were bona fide hits that could even top the charts almost ten years later. It is rare (aside from possibly artists such as Beyoncé and SZA) for a singer to rerelease a 10 minute version of a non-single, and have it become a runaway success. All Too Well has always been a fan favourite, and I am glad it has the recognition it deserved at the time.
It still feels too good to be true. Ctrl (2017) defined my 2018; I listened to this album a lot, as I felt closely aligned to some of the themes within the songs: feeling played, taken for granted, recovering from trauma, and being broke. SZA is similar to Kehlani in her well-considered craft of confessional song writing. Even if it isn’t, the listener feels drawn in and enchanted by their craft. The vocal melodies and features are chosen thoughtfully, making me feel as though I’m in self-imposed exile, floating somewhere in the ocean. Another classic alternative album.
7. Banshee, Newdad, Fair Youth.
I’m a big fan of Newdad, and this EP is a promising start to the Irish band’s output. Subtle and not over marketed. Consistent, clean blurred vocals.
8. Love, Damini, Burna Boy, Bad Habits/On a Spaceship/Atlantic.
I got into Burna Boy after African Giant (2019), and this album was another staple of mine during the lockdown and after, as we all re-entered life at our own pace. Love Damini feels like the true follow up to African Giant, with stadium worthy anthems (Last Last) and gorgeous features (Solid ft. Blxst and Kehlani, Wild Dreams ft. Khalid). I also want to say, Burna Boy fans are generally very lovely and passionate, and I’ve had lots of wonderful interactions with them via Twitter (pre-Musk).
9. Beatopia, Beabadoobee, Dirty Hit.
Beabadoobee is brilliant. I’ve seen her live twice, in 2021 and 2022, and she has a good stage presence and chemistry with her band. Her first album, Fake it Flowers (2020), had a lot of homage to 1990s alternative and pop rock. Beatopia, somewhat predictably, veers into 2000s rock, but I wish she would explore more of her roots, especially seen in tracks such as Pictures of Us.
10. Crash, Charli XCX, Asylum Records.
Oh Charli. Charli XCX has done it all. From mega pop hits like I Don’t Care and Fancy, to collaborating with Kim Petras and Sophie, Charli XCX has shown that pop can be artistic, complex, and experimental. Crash is seen by some ‘Charli loyalists’ as a bit of a cop out – a radio-friendly 80s rehash. I really enjoy Crash, especially Baby, Constant Repeat, and Good Ones. Charli is a pop girl through and through, and has proven that she loves all kinds of pop, from metallic AG Cook Hyperpop, to soft bubblegum 80s trash.
What do you think? Do you agree / disagree? What are your top ten?