Joe’s Best Songs of 2019
I’ve found the musical output of 2019 to be pretty lackluster, if I am honest. A lot of hyped projects or projects from people whose previous output I have enjoyed disappointed me or for some reason didn’t stick with me as long as I expected. Albums by Freddie Gibbs, Solange, Tyler The Creator, Chance The Rapper, Kanye West and FKA Twigs have all come and gone, leaving me pretty down on the whole year. A reason for this feeling might be because I’ve spent most of 2019 in a very deep dark place until the final third or so, but even still that can’t account for my entire apathy for all those aformentioned projects. I hope 2020 makes for this year!
However, despite that negativity, some fantastic music came out this year that I will return to again and again (well, with one probable exception). And here they are:
Honourable Mention: Lil’ Nas X – ‘Old Town Road (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus)’
I’m not sure if ‘Old Town Road’ and its various remixes will stand the test of time because it is ostensibly a gimmick song akin to ‘Kung Foo Fighting’. However, regardless of how this song will be seen in the future, I loved the remix of ‘Old Town Road’ with Billy Ray Cyrus. It really fleshed out the original and give it this bigger more anthemic quality which ultimatly made the original feel like a demo in comparison. Qualitatively, I couldn’t tell you what is so good about ‘Old Town Road’ other than it is just an earworm that I didn’t tire of. No more, no less. I look foward to seeing what Lil’ Nas X does in the future.
10) Bedouine – ‘When You’re Gone’
‘When You’re Gone’ isn’t necessarily a song I previously would have paid much attention to. I’ve always found folk music, generally speaking, to be twee and boring. However the warmth that radiates from ‘When You’re Gone’ (and Bedouine as an artist) really spoke to me this year with her music acting as a balm on my psyche. Something I appreciated about ‘When You’re Gone’ is that, on closer inspection, it has this subtext of unhappiness and heartbreak. Songs that effectively hide their sorrow in generally positive instrumentation I always find very impressive and this song is no exception.
9) Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Want You In My Room’
I found Dedicated to be a fine listen, not as many highlights as Emotion, but a good album regardless. It was a close call between ‘Want You In My Room’ and ‘Julien’ but I think what edges out the latter is how the ‘Want You In My Room’ channels Prince. There is something in the joyful bouncy way she sings “baby don’t you want me to?” and “I wanna do bad things to you/slide on through my window” just made me thing of something Prince circa Dirty Mind would yelp out. As a big fan of The Purple One, I have to applaud Carly Rae Jepsen for the homage.
8) Denzel Curry – ‘SPEEDBOAT’
Denzel Curry’s ZUU was one of the few rap albums that stuck with me throughout the year and this song really typifyed what I love about his music. ‘SPEEDBOAT’ is lyrical, melodic and yet aggressive which is all that I ask for in a rap song. It is so well written that it took me a few listens to realise that is ‘just’ a braggadious song about how much money Curry has these days, which is the signs of a great lyricist in my opinion. There are few young rappers making such polished thoughtful music like him in the industry and I need to laud Denzel Curry for that.
7) Lizzo – ‘Juice’
Before I was lucky enough to go to Glastonbury, I never really paid attention to Lizzo’s music. However I was swept away by her enthusiasm, positivity and sheer raw talent live and she effectively channels that in her recorded material. ‘Juice’ for me is Lizzo at her best: positive but not corny, a great sense of humour and an immediantly catchy hook. I may not be the intended audience for the message in ‘Juice’ but that didn’t stop me listening to it once a day for weeks at a time (and I felt better for it).
6) Rosalía – ‘Milionària’
I will be honest, I have a great deal of trouble enjoying music that isn’t in English. Yes I know that is very basic, but I am a man who enjoys to listen to the lyrics (probably from my love of Rap Music) so if I can’t understand what the artist is saying, I have trouble connecting to the music. Saying that, ‘Milionària’ is such a great song that it transcends language barriers. There is something about the latin style of pop music that just seems so immediate and emotional. I know the song is just about Rosalía wanting tons of money, but the repeated refrain along with the “Fucking money man” sample have been in my brain for most of the year, which you can’t ask for much more with Pop music regardless of its origin.
5) Caroline Polacheck – ‘Door’
Each song in Pang feels like a delicate crystalline sculpture crafted by an artisan and ‘Door’ is the best of the bunch. It is the most ambitous and, for my money, gratifying song on the album. In my opinion, it is about a relationship where Caroline is unable to reach her desired destination. Whether that relationship is with a man who is always asking her to transgress boundaries without anything in return or her own place in the music industry where she is never popular enough to stop, it is unclear (perhaps they are one and the same). But whatever the meaning, ‘Door’ is a truly epic song with a beautiful refrain and incredible singing. Caroline Polacheck is someone whose music I will keep an eye on for years to come.
4) Vampire Weekend – ‘Harmony Hall’
Overall, I really liked Father of the Bride but I still have to put its first single, ‘Harmony Hall’, over marjonally deeper cuts like ‘This Life’ or ‘Unbearably White’ because I feel like the overall songwriting is strongest on the album. I can see why Ezra and crew decided to put the song out first. It is a song criticising racisim in Ivy League colleges, which is surprisingly deep for a Vampire Weekend song. Their a band whose previous output I have found to be emotional and well written but not particually meaningful. ‘Harmony Hall’ is also the most instrumentally detailed and textured song on FOTB. The twangy guitars, the catchy baroque piano and funky bass (and probably three or four intrustments I don’t know the name of) just come together to make the song a very satisfying listen.
3) D’angelo – ‘Unshaken’
I was unsure whether to include this song or not. Technically ‘Unshaken’ made its debut on Red Dead Redemption II, which was released in 2018. However, it wasn’t available to be legally bought until January 2019 so I think it counts. ‘Unshaken’ is an old school sound gospel track about ‘standing tall’ when your back is ‘against the wall.’ The instrumentation is beautiful in its simplicity and D’angelo’s singing feels so soulful it sounds like a modern day Spiritual. There were moments that literally gave me chills when I first listened to it. Absolutely phenominal piece of music and one of D’angelo’s best songs without a doubt.
2) Thom Yorke – ‘Dawn Chorus’
Despite my undying love for Radiohead, Thom Yorke’s solo output has never grabbed me in any capacity. I usually find his output fairly stilted and dry. However, with ‘Dawn Chorus’ (and Anima as a whole) the pieces finally came together to make something profoundly beautiful. The swirling synths and Thom Yorke’s low-key – yet somehow emotional voice – evoke the sun cresting over the horizon to me. I don’t know, maybe I am just too imaginative sometimes, but what I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that ‘Dawn Chorus’ really gripped me and refused to let go throughout the year.
1) Charli XCX – ‘Gone (feat. Christine & The Queens)
‘Gone’ one of the best songs of the decade. I say that without qualification or hesitation. It all stems from several people working together at the very height of their individual creativity: Charli XCX, Christine & The Queens and PC Music to write something truly special. The entire song is sung with such passion from both Charli and Christine that it gave me that rush of pure serotonin that only the very best pop songs do. I love that, in typical Charli XCX fashion, despite its very pop sensibilities, ‘Gone’ is a sad song of feeling socially awkward and anxious. With that in mind, the musical breakdown at the end signifies that Charli and Christine are finally comfortable with themselves. Charli XCX always prides herself on trying to sound like the future of pop music. If she is right and artists in the future look to her as a major influence, then that time can’t come soon enough.
Other great songs released this year: 2099 (feat. Troye Sivan) by Charli XCX, Really don’t like u (feat. Kylie Minogue) by Tove Lo, Norman fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey, Violence (feat i_o) by Grimes, Superbike by Jay Som, Essentially by Japanese Breakfast, It Might Be Time by Tame Impala, Barefoot in the Park (feat. Rosalía) by James Blake, Only Human (feat. KH) by Four Tet, Julien by Carly Rae Jepsen, So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings by Caroline Polacheck & Wings by Shoreline Mafia.