Welcome to the Best Songs of 2019 countdown. I’ll be your host.
I’ve compiled this list every year for more than a decade — since 2007 in fact. I exchange lists with Mike of B-Sides Narrative and we hem and haw and grumble about the songs we left off the list and the artists that we somehow didn’t hear during our sonic travels. There’s too much music for anyone to hear. I suppose you have a shot if your full-time job requires it. Even though I’m actually paid a small sum to write about music for Music Meet Fans, I barely even scratch the surface. I’d love to spend more time enjoying contemporary jazz, blues, and more experimental electronic music. I’m just one guy with a pavlovian response to female-fronted electro-pop outfits. Honestly if I didn’t consciously explore other artists, this list would consist of 80% female-fronted electro-pop. That’s my default setting. That’s the frequency that makes me purr.
The Best Songs of 2019 challenged me more than other years. My “Hits list” — the list that I assemble all year long featuring songs I’ve heard that I like/love/might grow to love ballooned to 300 in December as I tried to play catch up on all the music I missed. Selecting 100 became self-flagellation. So there’s 129 songs on my list. Sue me. Mike said I could. (He has more than 130!)
2019 challenged me in other ways, too. The volume of good music, the music that resonated, for one. Personally and professionally I had to confront a few demons as well. So these weren’t always just songs. These were sonic crutches. They were gateways to clarity and momentary peace. They were distractions and encouragement and moments of zen when the words just weren’t there. The right piece of music at the right time can improve your whole day. And if you improve every day with music, that’s a life.
Keep listening. Keep digging and keep searching for the music that resonates at your frequency. Don’t just turn on the radio and listen to whatever oldies channel comes on. Consciously dig deeper. The music that becomes yours doesn’t live on the surface. It lives in the shadows waiting to become exquisitely, personally yours.
Spotify Playlist (Top 128):
30Hz Top 25 Songs of 2019:
“Too Much” – Carly Rae Jepsen
I wish to have a sliver of the fun that Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have performing and being Carly Rae Jepsen. The Canadian pop icon’s music has grown up from her “Call Me Maybe” days. “Too Much” is mature pop songwriting from an artist that never seems to exhaust her enthusiasm for life.
“Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver
A month ago Bon Iver wouldn’t have sniffed the Top 100. I wasn’t fond of this song and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for Bon Iver’s new record. It wasn’t as good. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before. But then XMU beat this song into my brain. A switch flipped, and I finally saw this track’s fragile, haunting beauty.
“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” – Caroline Polachek
A name that sounds like a Flight of the Conchords track backed by an inescapable hook, Caroline Polachek’s porcelain voice, and a dash of Hall & Oates musicality.
“Demands” – Makthaverskan
In my intro, I should have added female-fronted Swedish post-punk alongside female-fronted electro-pop as the sounds that just get me. “Demands” comes from a two-song EP which means that there’s (hopefully) another full record on the horizon. Can you hear the giddy in my voice?
“Fare Thee Well” – Jessica Pratt
I called Jessica Pratt’s 2019 record Quiet Signs a masterpiece in multiple conversations this year. Upon my first listen I added “Fare Thee Well” to my 2019 Final list and I’ve never second-guessed either assessment. You may not love her high-pitched delivery, but there’s an otherworldly synesthesia between her voice at music.
“Forgot Your Name” – Mini Mansions
Shamelessly plucked from Edgar Wright’s list. An infectious throwback banger from idiosyncratic DEVO-inspired LA-based pop outfit.
“Andromeda” – Weyes Blood
Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising might be my record of the year. I did, after all, give it a perfect review earlier this year on Spill Magazine — the only perfect score I’ve ever given. “Andromeda” received an extra push into the Top 25 because of my affection for all things Natalie Mering.
“Self Care” – Lily & Madeleine
The simple backing piano and vocals give me hymn-brand chills. I’m not a religious man, but certain songs give me faith. Indianapolis Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz harmonies on this track might just qualify as angelic.
“bad guy” – Billie Eilish
I want to first confess that I don’t “get” Billie Eilish. Her whole thing confuses me and I assume that’s becomes I’m over 30. That said, “bad guy” is a fresh wound of a pop track. A rolling synthetic bassline, hushed vocals and a radical tonal shift. This artist’s got brass lady balls and even though I don’t totally understand her massive popularity, I get it.
“Sympathy” – Vampire Weekend
While everyone else was out repping that earworm “Harmony Hall” I was listening quietly to the rest of the record and “Sympathy” jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. It almost feels like Rostam’s back with the band.
“The Imperial” – The Delines
Lead singer Amy Boone underwent three years of treatment and rehab after her legs were broken when she was hit by a car in Austin, Texas. The band waited to release their second record The Imperial until her return. This track invokes a broken-down Dusty Springfield. Pitch-perfect neo-soul.
“Trampoline” – SHAED
My 7yo is obsessed with this song. She’s also obsessed with Ariana Grande and the soundtrack to some Nickelodeon show called Victorious. So take from that nugget what you will.
“Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” – Poolside (feat. Panama)
There’s a literal cottage industry of “Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” remixes. Don’t mess with the rest. Daytime Disco lives in this easy-listening mid-tempo groove. Life is better with Poolside on the turntable.
“Death Stranding” – CHVRCHES
It’s actually pretty funny that in a year without a CHVRVCHES album I still found the ways and means to add two CHVRCHES songs to my Best of List. This one comes from a video game that I never bothered to play. “Death Stranding” features the band’s regular flourishes. Slow build to a catharsis, perfect production. The way Lauren’s Scottish brogue comes through when she says “down.”
“Dylan Thomas” – Better Oblivion Community Center
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s side project puts all other side projects to shame. “Dylan Thomas” channels the Traveling Wilbury’s and modern, existential malaise.
“hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me” – Lana Del Rey
I won’t admit how many songs from Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell made it onto my 2019 Hits list (okay, it was five). This is personal, scorched earth songwriting that will stand the test of time. If we’re talking about any single record from this year 25 yeas from now it’ll be this one.
“When Am I Gonna Lose You” – Local Natives
The placing of some of these songs relies heavily on mix-tape methodology. I couldn’t follow Lana Del Rey with another suicide track. Instead, I pumped the countdown back up with this pure pop anthem from Local Natives. Taylor Rice’s vocals on “When Am I Gonna Lose You” don’t seem humanly possible. Here’s an interesting look at the production of the song on Consequence of Sound.
“Chewing Cotton Wool” – The Japanese House
The Japanese House, aka London’s Amber Bain, has another one of those transcendent voices, instantaneous transporation. Whenever I heard a song from The Japanese House, I paused whatever I was doing so I can drape myself in her velvet.
“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture
Any song I call an “anthem” inspires me to sing the chorus wherever I am. Whatever I’m doing. It can be quite embarrassing when I’m listening on headphones because I lose myself in Pure Bathing Culture and especially this particular track. Suffice to say that I am not as talented a pop vocalist as Sarah Versprille.
“Not” – Big Thief
Adrianne Lenker uses negation to explain her world. “Not the meat of your thigh/Nor your spine tattoo/Nor your shimmery eye/Nor the wet of the dew,” she sings. Big Thief creates lush, beautiful soundscapes (see: “UFOF” and “Shark Smile”) but this is not lush and beautiful. This is forest after the fire. The riverbed after the drought.
“Oblivions” – The National
Essentially a B-side on The National’s wonderful new record “I Am Easy to Find” (which is itself a a kind of experimental companion to Mike Mills’ film of the same name). Matt Berninger sings backup vocals to Bryce Dessner’s wife Pauline de Lassus. It’s a meditation on the nature of the human condition within a marriage. Mills called it the masterpiece on the record. Obviously, I agree. You could pick something prosaic like “Light Years” but that’d be your wrong choice.
“All Mirrors” – Angel Olsen
Introspective deep-dives into the darkness. Listening to Angel Olson’s All Mirrors feels like being alone with your thoughts. It’s not a suicide record so much as a search for peace in the center of a tornado.
“Nothing Baby” – Magdalena Bay
Barely a song. A snippet. A hook. An homage to Gwen Stefani, perhaps. Found on Magdalena Bay’s tapestry of unfinished tracks, mini mix vol. 1, “Nothing Baby” has no peers. It hits its beat, embraces the wall-to-wall hook and then just ends. You could listen to this track a dozen times and not feel satiated and maybe that’s why it climbed all the way up to #3.
“Red Bull & Hennessey” – Jenny Lewis
I killed one song this year for everyone in my household. For Jenny this is a proper banger. It even features a pretty rocking guitar solo. There may have been “better” songs on “On the Line,” but this one made me love Jenny Lewis even more — as if that were even possible.
“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s having a moment and we’re along for the ride. “Remind Me Tomorrow” attained crossover notoriety despite Sharon’s further sonic experimentation. She performed “Seventeen” on Kimmel. Rolling Stone devoted an entire spread to the track as a “Song You Need to Know.” Van Etten looks back on being 17 with only a small amount of romanticism. It’s mostly a dirge for an uncertain future with the unique perspective of having lived the life in between. Unlike other years there was no controversy surrounding my choice for #1. The other songs stepped aside for Sharon Van Etten to assume the throne.
Previous “Best Of” Song Lists: