sat 22/02/2020

Albums of the Year 2019: Little Simz - GREY Area | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2019: Little Simz - GREY Area

Albums of the Year 2019: Little Simz - GREY Area

Records to return to again and again, from a year better left behind

Cool, calm and confident: therapeutic grooves on Little Simz' third album

In 2019, music kept its place as a vital means for expression and escapism in an increasingly troubled and troubling world. Happily, there were plenty of brilliant albums to get lost in over the course of the year. 

Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow was a masterclass in comeback albums. After her short hiatus from music, the record saw her trade in her folky roots in favour of synthesisers, elevating her sound to dizzying new heights while maintaining the intimacy and intensity that first stole her fans’ hearts. Remind Me Tomorrow provided a steady stream of great singles - "Jupiter 4", "Comeback Kid", "Seventeen" - that were all equal parts devastating and life-affirming. The whole album is a masterpiece.

Crushing, the second album from Australia’s Julia Jacklin, was a dizzying dopamine rush of heartache indie rock and clever confessionals. The Karen O/Dangermouse collaboration, Lux Prima, was a neo-vintage match made in heaven. Sampa The Great’s The Return was a breath of fresh air, with confidence and charisma oozing from every beat.

November saw two significant releases from Cardiff - formidable experimental rock duo Right Hand Left Hand unleashed their excellent concept album Zone Rouge, and beloved garage rock band KEYS shared their long-awaited psych romp, Bring Me The Head of Jerry Garcia - both revered in the Welsh scene and deserving of wider attention and praise. 

Unless you were living under a rock, it was hard to ignore the huge mark Billie Eilish made on music in 2019, and rightly so - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, packed with earworms and attitude, solidified her status as cult icon turned global superstar. Meanwhile, on the indie underground, we nurtured an unhealthy obsession with the Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst brainchild Better Oblivion Communion Center.

But the album I returned to again and again in 2019 was Little Simz’ GREY Area. I challenge you to listen to the opening bars of “Offence” and not be completely hooked. The British rapper earned a Mercury nomination for this dynamic work, which manages to be playful but serious, moving masterfully between vulnerability and empowerment. Essential tracks include the woozy, soulful “Selfish”, ferocious “Venom”, achingly personal “Sherbert Sunset”, and irresistable “101 FM” - but you really should just listen to GREY Area in its entirety, for a perfectly formed hip hop record full of imagination, humour and heart.

Two more essential albums of 2019

Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow 

Keys - Bring Me The Head of Jerry Garcia 

Gig of the year

Khruangbin at Green Man Festival

Track of the year

Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan Thomas 

@josoutherd

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