2019 has been a difficult year for the music album as a collection of songs connected by some sort of consistent narrative. Physical album sales continued to decline while music streaming services keep gaining market share with Spotify remaining the most important player, no pun intended. But while streaming platforms are very convenient to use and have arguably made music more accessible than ever before, their emphasis on songs, playlists and single track recommender systems disincentives listening to albums from first track to last.
Survey data suggests that less than 20 % of the time spent listening to streamed music is dedicated to albums, according to Musicbiz (pdf). The average listener across all age groups spends 54 % of his and her time listening to single tracks and 28 % to playlists. Among the playlists, platform-generated ones are about three times as popular as those curated by friends, radio stations or the good old fashioned music blog. Needless to say that only a fraction of the streaming industries’ revenue growth ends up in the pockets of musicians.
There are bright spots though. While revenues from digital album and CD sales keep going down, vinyl record sales were up 13 % in 2019, the RIAA reports, offsetting the decline of all other physical formats. Platforms like Bandcamp are on the forefront of this trend and continue to flourish, putting the artists and independent labels at the center of their business. More than 5 million albums can be bought on the platform, both physically and digitally, and 80-85 % of the revenue stream, no pun intended, goes straight to the artists – paid out transparently, on a daily basis. Pretty smooth.
Bandcamp is showcasing the incredible diversity of their catalogue in a record store and performance place in Oakland, California, that opened in February 2019, and which Team Poule strongly encourages you to visit. Their cozy and bright corner space on 19th and Broadway holds a curated vinyl selection from their online store that is updated every day and sports relaxing listening booths to make your way through the maybe 100 records on display quite comfortably.
It wasn’t all grey in 2019 then, but good music, at least for Team Poule, was to be discovered in places outside the streaming platforms and machine-made playlists. It might be idealistic or old-fashioned, but at Poule headquarters, the album, the classic long player, still counts: the LP that has a coherent theme, is a document of the artist’s time, and is under no circumstances to be listened to on shuffle.
So, after consulting the major media outlets, and looking past the great headline making albums by Weyes Blood, Thom Yorke, Little Simz, Helado Negro, Toro Y Moi, Chromatics, Julia Jacklin, Big Thief, Nick Cave, Lana del Rey, Men I Trust, Bon Iver, Nilüfer Yanya, Angel Olsen, and more, here goes Team Poule’s definitive list of 10 or so of our favorite albums that saw the light of day in 2019 and were somewhat overlooked – in no particular order.
Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaires Club / Atlanta, Georgia / Secretly Canadian / 31 mins
Listening to the brilliant Atlanta Millionaires Club and its pure tiki vibes that come wrapped in a perfect summer afternoon drowsiness and Grande Bellezza is as pleasing as swiping through the perfectly arranged Ace Hotel Palm Springs Instagram account. A fine production from horns to keys and her lush vocals take you back to hours spent by the pool, palm tree aesthetics, and food being served under plastic domes. Her third solo album was one of the finest records of 2019.
Maria Usbeck – Envejeciendo / Brooklyn, New York / Cascine / 27 mins
Her second album Envejeciendo picks up right where the debut left off. Flawless dreamy Spanish/English synth pop that is just a joy to listen to, be it on your Sunday couch or cruising down your local coastline, windows down, wheels chasing the white lines.
Shana Cleveland – Night of the Worm Moon / Los Angeles, California / Hardly Art / 31 mins
Her solo debut kicks off lush and dreamy with the track attached below, and develops into a whirl wind of ultimately Californian pop music with the sun-drenched 70s aesthetic tucked right underneath. An album in the old-school sense, as in one that works great from start to finish and is a true record of its time and place.
Altin Gün – Gece / Amsterdam, Netherlands / Glitterbeat Records / 37 mins
This Dutch ensemble dropped their sophomore LP in April, and has been on the road since, redefining Anatolian rock by adding a very melodic and psychedelic spin to it. They emphasize that only one of them has Turkish roots, but that they still want to give voice to a lot of other people by teleporting the traditional Turkish folk music into the 21st century.
Derya Yildirim & Grup Şimşek – Kar Yağar / Hamburg, Germany / Bongo Joe / 40 mins
This collaboration is markedly driven by Derya Yildirim’s soothing voice and her playing of the traditional string instrument Saz. The album Kar Yağar came out in May and is an exciting spin of Anatolian music and modern grooves opening up a niche between psychedelic and funk and serving as a great soundtrack for both hot summer nights and breezy autumn afternoons.
The Mauskovic Dance Band – The Mauskovic Dance Band / Amsterdam, Netherlands / Soundway Records / 33 mins
The Mauskovic brothers throw together classic Cumbia vibes and Afro-Latin grooves in a mad dance around the globe. They released this steamer in May after a series of brilliant EPs. The press release contained the words “controlled explosion” and “no-wave dance punk”.
Yin Yin – The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers / Maastricht, Netherlands / Bongo Joe / 43 mins
This Dutch quartet effortlessly combines South East Asian beats and tropical synths to a global dance party. They sport a neat sense for melody and rhythm paired with the pleasing heat of the tropics. For 2020 they already confirmed a number of festival gigs, will be a no-brainer under clear skies.
Hama – Houmeissa / Niamey, Niger / Sahel Sounds / 38 mins
Maybe one of the finds of the year. Houmeissa is Hama’s second album and out via Portland’s great Sahel Sounds. Hama flawlessly combines a sort of mid 90s techno vibe with traditional Tuareq folk sounds and North African synths.
FEWS – Into Red / Stockholm, Sweden / PIAS / 39 mins
The Swedish-British-American conglomerate released their sophomore LP in March and managed to maintain the raw and melodic sound of their debut as well as broadening their reach and spectrum. Into Red was a great addition to their discography and live repertoire of songs and it will be exciting to see what 2020 holds for them.
Bear With Me – Bear With Me / Copenhagen, Denmark / Møs Møs / 19 mins
Technically probably an EP at just over 19 minutes run time, but Bear With Me’s self titled debut rightfully deserves its spot. The five tracks are all stand out performances, perfectly produced and ultimately great pop songs.
Modern Pleasure – Goodbye Chanel / Leeds, UK / Modern Pleasure / 47 mins
Modern Pleasure used to go by the name of Goodbye Chanel back in the days. Growing up in the same city, each of them eventually relocated to different parts of the globe. For this album, which concludes their journey, they re-recorded old tracks and wrote new ones, and by the power of the internet never really were in the same room together for long. A remarkable testament to their works over the years, and packed with great, truly timeless hits.
Hibou – Halve / Seattle, Washington / Barsuk Records / 39 mins
This dream pop heavy hitter silently dropped Halve, a bad boy of an album, complete with lush riffs, lots of reverb and a general haziness that is hard to resist. On repeat this one.
Do not miss out on Team Poule’s picks for calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018. And for those extra vintage tunes, try finding those on Spotify: 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Title image of this post and FEWS album cover by the talented Joe Edward.
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