Favourite music of 2019

Shorter list this year as I only have time to write up nine fave songs (which as usual largely serve as stand-ins for their respective albums). I do list some more honourable mentions at the bottom.

9. Doja Cat (additional production Yeti Beats) - Bottom Bitch

The spirit of Nicki Minaj is strong with this one. Part of Minaj's challenge to the male-dominated genre of hip hop is to insist that her work contain not only virtuosic rapping ability but also sounds and signifiers traditionally coded as feminine, and have those latter elements be as garish as possible – hence the prevalence of autotuned singing, bubblegum pop and the colour pink. The reaction to tracks like 'Gun Shot', 'Super Bass' or 'Stupid Ho' from scene gatekeepers demonstrates the challenge such a project entailed. But the world has changed, and artists like Doja Cat have moved into the space Minaj opened up. The album Hot Pink (her favourite colour as well as a signpost to the influence of Minaj's Pink Friday) is great throughout, but I picked this cut because of the disorientating way it co-opts the often sexist and exploitative language of the pimp-prostitute relationship to speak about friendship and loyalty, and in doing so showing how hip hop can be bent and shaped to cater to new communities of listeners.

8. Charly Bliss - Capacity

Charly Bliss trade in the sublime 90s pop-punk of their first album for polished synth-pop straight out of the CHVRCHES rulebook. Given that CHVRCHES already exist and no one could touch Guppy at its peak, I can't help but feel disappointed at this development. First single 'Capacity' does manage to recapture some of the highs of their earlier work, particularly once it gets to the bridge, which is tailor-made for lasers over the main stage of a festival.

7. Dawn Richard (additional production D Berg) - vultures | wolves 

The disappointment with Pitchfork's big 2010s lists is that amalgamating the preferences of informed listeners will inevitably favour artists with larger profiles, because those are the names that will appear most often across individual lists. And this constructs an account of the decade that focuses on the most influential music, rather than necessarily the best. Dawn Richard has probably produced the most consistently excellent R&B of the last 10 years, but by various twists of fate her music has bubbled under the surface rather than be recognised for the ambitious suite of work that it is. Anyway, this year's new breed isn't even in the top tier of records she's put out as a solo artist, and it's still essential. I saw her in London in April and her rendition of 'vultures' brought the entire house down.

6. Kehlani feat. Musiq Soulechild (prod. SuperDuperBrick & J Young White) - Footsteps

A sparse but knotty production hooks into the corners of the track while Kehlani lays on some real talk to her partner about her need for recognition and support in order to make a relationship work. 'Footsteps' is a frank conversation between two people taking stock on the inadequacies of young love, and how to build firmer foundations for the future. And the harmonising between Kehlanni and Musiq Soulechild at the end signals that a reconciliation has been achieved, holding out the promise that not all broken things are irrecoverable.

5. Mannequin Pussy - In Love Again

It's probably some sort of rule that rock albums need to end on a series of escalating climaxes piling up on top of each other until they all collapse. This is exactly what happens here – with giant drums and the grandest of pianos pushing up bigger and bigger swells of noise, before unleashing a barrage of blissful guitar solos. The crescendo that accompanies the triumphant line 'I'm in love with you' is followed by a long denouement, as if invoking the work that follows such a declaration to keep the relationship strong over time. Even if that emotional peak is never reached again, there is satisfaction still in the song gradually unspooling outwards, settling into a steady state groove of contentment.

4. Charli XCX (prod. A.G. Cook) - Thoughts 

'Gone' is probably a better song, but this beatless solo cut from her very good self-titled album this year just sounds HUGE. Slightly ridiculous comparison, but it's the sort of chest-beating all-caps autotuned melodrama found in something like Lil Durk's drill anthem 'This Ain't What You Want'. The influence of contemporary rap is felt also in the lyrics, which Charli basically freestyled during a long and frustrating session in the studio. A.G. Cook builds a cavern of icy blasting winds at the centre of which Charli bellows and shrieks her deepest and darkest. But despite the doubts about fake friends and failed relationships there's a grim defiance undergirding the track and gives it a strange kind of uplift – big attitude, I don't wanna compromise. Charli is owning her insecurities, and it doesn't sound like they will ever get in her way.

3. pronoun - wrong

In case you couldn't tell, Alyse Vellturo is annoyed. The cause of her anger is communicated pretty directly in the chorus – sitting here feeling sorry for somebody you hate when you know it's wrong – and those lines sound like they're being sung through gritted teeth. And yet all the mounting rage and frustration of the situation is channelled into a very tightly put together pop song with a cheery dual-guitar riff that slices through at key moments. It's a skillfully wound contraption – sparks flying from the effort of containing all that energy within yourself, and transforming it into something new and delightful.

2. Clairo (additional production Rostam & Peter Cottontale) - North 

Slightly ashamed to be falling for an album that could easily be factored into a general critique of soulful background music designed to slot neatly into Spotify playlists – all idiosyncrasies treated as irritants and ruthlessly shaved off to produce a smooth, mellow flow of bland ambience that goes in one ear and out the other. All I can say is that there's something captivating about Immunity that makes it stand out regardless of how easily it goes down. Its best tracks create a wonderful tension between the mumbled, barely audible vocals and the roiling emotions they partly conceal. 'North' is not an obvious pick from the album, but as a tale of young lust on the edge of revealing itself, and set to a driving motorik beat, it is entrancing like little else this year. The slight distortion on the final chorus, corroding the vocal yet further with the desperation of desire, is just the right final touch.   

1. American Football feat. Hayley Williams - Uncomfortably Numb

A lattice of interweaving guitar parts soundtrack the back and forth between two interior monologues cataloguing the gradual disintegration of a relationship. Emo grown up, grown tired, grown depressed and despondent, but this being American Football there's still this romantic yearning for a connection despite all the obstacles in the way. It's an unhappy ending – the two voices only occasionally harmonise before branching off in different directions. But the music itself is so hypnotically beautiful that it could fool you into thinking there's still some hope left.

Some other records I liked this year


Octo Octa - Resonant Body
Pugilist - Blue 06
TC4 - Ola EP
Kara Marni & Champion - All Night, Pt 1
Special Request - Vortex
Air Max '97 - Ice Bridge
Kasper Marott - Drømmen om Ø (Forever Mix '19)
Skee Mask - Iss004 EP (the bits that sound most like Compro)
Plaid - Maru (Skee Mask Remix)
Christoph De Babalon - Hectic Shakes EP


Great Grandpa - Four of Arrows
Sacred Paws - Run Around The Sun
Origami Angel - Somewhere City

Grime and progeny: 

Bru-C & Window Kid feat. Pubman, KDot, Kamakaze & Devilman - Bits (Remix)
Durrty Goodz (prod. Beekay) - Brexit
Pinch & Trim - That Wasn't It
Sidhu Moose Wala, MIST & Steel Banglez feat. Stefflon Don - 47
Shakka feat. Mr Eazi (prod. Banx & Ranx) - Too Bad Bad
Cadell feat. Sense & Delusion (prod. Wize) - Don't Lack
No Hats No Hoods compilation - London To Addis
Slimzos Recordings compilation - Time


Meitei - Komachi
Leif - Loom Dream
H.Takahashi - Sonne Und Wasser
Mikron - Severance
Akasha System - Echo Earth
Kornél Kovács - Stockholm Marathon
Robag Wruhme - Venq Tolep


49 films in 2019

There isn't even any point in me listing my favourite new films I've seen this year – it's just Marvel movies and Kechiche's controversial follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour, which I thought was good if a bit icky (and the sequel is apparently just icky). I have been going to the cinema, but it's been the Prince Charles and the BFI to watch old films, which are invariably less likely to disappoint than new ones.

And in 2019 I ended up spending a lot of time in the 90s – not just on the big films of the decade (Silence of the Lambs, Dazed and Confused, Scream, The Piano, Boyz n the Hood) but the second tier (Doom Generation, Jackie Brown, Strange Days, Wild Things) which have often proved more interesting. There's a supposed 20-year-rule in pop music revivals where the generation that gains artistic and commercial influence in their 30s bring with them their formative influences as teenagers, a personal version of which seems to be dictating my film-watching habits.

Should also shout out the London Graphic Novel Network film club for many of the entries here, which has provided an excuse to revisit old favourites (Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men, Lost in Translation, Jennifer's Body, Alien) and argue about them in robust and entertaining terms. Many of the links below are to the conversations conducted over email and then published on the site.


Abdellatif Kechiche - Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno [link]
Anthony and Joe Russo - Avengers: Endgame
Jon Watts - Spider-Man: Far From Home [link]
Anna Boden / Ryan Fleck - Captain Marvel [link]


Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labyrinth [link]
Alfonso Cuarón - Children of Men [link]
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation [link]
Kathryn Bigelow - Strange Days [link]
Karyn Kusama - Jennifer's Body [link]
Quentin Tarantino - Jackie Brown [link]
Walerian Borowczyk - The Beast [link]
Ridley Scott - Alien [link]
Alejandro González Iñárritu - Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [link]
Orson Welles - Citizen Kane [link]
Takashi Miike - 13 Assassins [link]
Michelangelo Antonioni - The Passenger [link]
Gregg Araki - The Doom Generation [link]
Chuck Russell - The Mask [link]
Gaspar Noé - Enter the Void [link]
John McNaughton - Wild Things [link]
David Eggers - The VVitch: A New England Folktale [link]
Jack Hill - Coffy [link]
Howard Hawks - His Girl Friday [link]
James Cameron - The Terminator [link]
Miloš Forman - Man on the Moon [link]
Mark Waters - Mean Girls [link]
Richard Linklater - Dazed and Confused [link]
Wes Craven - Scream [link]
Martin Scorsese - King of Comedy [link]
Jane Campion - The Piano [link]
John Singleton - Boyz n the Hood [link]
Walter Hill - The Warriors [link]
Jordan Peele - Get Out  [link]
Jonathan Demme - The Silence of the Lambs [link]
Nagisa Oshima - The Sun's Burial [link]
Stanley Kubrick - A Clockwork Orange [link]
Hideaki Anno - Neon Genesis Evangelion / The End of Evangelion [link]
Ingmar Bergman - Summer With Monika [link]
Howard Hawks - The Big Sleep [link]
John Carpenter - The Thing [link]
Brian De Palma - Carrie [link]
Robert Luketic - Legally Blonde [link]
Gregg Araki - Nowhere [link]
Jack Hill - Foxy Brown [link]
Michelangelo Antonioni - Identification of a Woman [link]
Anna Biller - Viva [link]
Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Amélie [link]
Hirokazu Kore-eda - Air Doll [link]
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained [link]


49 books of 2019

Big shout out to the Alzabo Soup podcast which has been the overwhelming influence on my book consumption this year. There's a podcast for everything nowadays, including this one providing extremely close readings of science fiction author Gene Wolfe, a niche I'm thoroughly into. I subscribed after finishing Urth of the New Sun in January, which the podcast has now started covering, so the year has a nice circular feel to it. Wolfe sadly passed away in April, which was a further impetus to get to know his work better.

The podcast spent a few episodes investigating some of Wolfe's influences, which led to me picking up Jack Vance, Ursula K. Le Guin, R.A. Lafferty and G.K. Chesterton. It also meant I was up for reading more old science fiction and fantasy generally (Robert Holdstock, Patricia A. McKillip, a dive into Stephen Baxter's Xeelee books). My job means I'm pretty immersed in the hour-by-hour news agenda, and frankly it's been a relief to escape into alternate or future worlds in my downtime.

I've started to write short 'reviews' (more like notes) on Goodreads, so most of the links point that way. I've also turned out two pieces on comics for the London Graphic Novel Network which I'm pretty happy with.

James A. Harris - Hume: An Intellectual Biography [link]
Ian Morris - Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
Damian McBride - Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin
John Dunn - Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future
David Stubbs - Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music [link]
Dan Hancox - Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
Xavier Mendik, Ernest Mathijs - 100 Cult Films
Jean-Yves Berthault (ed.) - The Passion of Mademoiselle S.

Alan Garner - Red Shift [link]
William Gibson & Bruce Sterling - The Difference Engine [link]
Gene Wolfe - The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Gene Wolfe - The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe - The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction
R.A. Lafferty - The Best of R.A. Lafferty [link]
Raymond Chandler - The Long Goodbye [link]
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Word for World Is Forest [link]
Jack Vance - Emphyrio
Jack Vance - The Dying Earth / The Eyes of the Overworld / Rhialto the Marvellous [link]
Stephen Baxter - Raft [link]
Stephen Baxter - Reality Dust / Riding the Rock / Mayflower II
Stephen Baxter - Ring [link]
Stephen Baxter - Timelike Infinity [link]
Robert Holdstock - Mythago Wood
Philip Pullman - The Book of Dust vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage
Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast
Patricia A. McKillip - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld [link]
Martin Amis - The Rachel Papers [link]
G.K. Chesterton - The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare
H. Rider Haggard - She: A History of Adventure [link]

Simon Spurrier / Ryan Kelly / Various - Cry Havoc [link]
Yoshihiro Tatsumi - A Drifting Life [link]
Enki Bilal - Monster [link]
Brian Michael Bendis - Fire
Brian Michael Bendis - Fortune & Glory
Masamune Shirow - Orion [link]
Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami - Wounded Man vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Atsushi Ohkubo - Soul Eater vols 1 & 2
Rick Remender / Sean Murphy / Matt Hollingsworth - Tokyo Ghost vols. 1 & 2
Rick Remender / Jerome Opeña / Matt Hollingsworth - Seven to Eternity vols. 1 & 2
Kieron Gillen / Caanan White - Uber Vol. 1
Alan Moore / Eddie Campbell - A Disease of Language
Christos Gage / various - Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 11 & 12
Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri - Druuna: Anima
Milo Manara - Gullivera
Francis Leroi / Jean-Pierre Gibrat - Pinocchia
Jean-Pierre Gibrat - Flight of the Raven
Liam Sharp /  Christina McCormack - Cap Stone vol 1: Captain Stone is missing
Osamu Tezuka - Apollo's Song
Naoki Urasawa - Monster vols. 1 & 2