Honestly, a better title for this article would be “My Favorite Songs of 2019 (so far)”. I’m not going to act like I have any kind of authority to declare what is or isn’t objectively good (a point I have elaborated on in a past article). But on the other hand, I really like these songs, and I really like writing about them. So! Let’s take a look at some of the best songs of the year:
Press play. Instantly, a synth begins playing a droning arpeggio which continues through the majority of the song. Close your eyes; you’re underwater, floating carelessly along as Natalie Mering/Weyes Blood’s gorgeously haunting voice enters the mix. “This is how it feels to be in love,” she sings, and you accept the apparent flatness of this complex emotion presented with the same grandeur but lack of personal connection you feel when watching a movie on a screen. Slowly, over the course of almost 6 minutes, the song grows in intensity, and you, the ever-passive audience-member, are forced to watch fake people lead better lives than your own. Weyes Blood sings, “the meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen,” alluding to various forms of escapism we all seek in so many ways. Eventually the synth arpeggio lines turn to string arpeggio lines, a drum kicks in, and Natalie professes that dissatisfaction and discontent aren’t just things she’s examining passively, like the rest of us. She knows her own life lacks direction and meaning – she just isn’t sure what to do about it.
Lana Del Rey,
Norman Fucking Rockwell!
“Venice Bitch” is the result of a songwriter and producer working in perfect harmony, sharing a singular vision that is consistently displayed across every artistic element of the song. Like most LDR songs, “Venice Bitch” deals heavily with themes of Americana, but something is off. Lyrically, the song pieces together countless contradictions of love and loss, happiness and melancholy, bliss and dread – this is instantly apparent through the chorus as Lana offers herself up as her lover’s “Venice bitch,” undercutting the reciprocation in the relationship. To parallel this fading relationship presented in the lyrics, a series of psychedelic guitar solos eventually overtake the song. These undulating, relentless waves of distortion evoke images of Lana wading deep into the ocean, drowning herself in the waves of Venice Beach. Finally, we’re left with the album’s thesis in the outro, and the ultimate contradiction present in this unhealthy, but wholly American relationship: “If you weren’t mine, I’d be jealous of your love.”
i,i is an album full of both intensely personal confessions and explosively outward proclamations, and no song better displays this duality than “Faith.” The song begins tentatively, as vocals and chords slowly fade in from the background. Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon describes his journey in understanding the concept of faith with only soft guitar strums, piano chords, and bass notes underscoring his falsetto. It’s incredibly insular and reminiscent of the sound he achieved with his debut record, For Emma, Forever Ago. Suddenly, the song explodes outward: the backing instrumentals cut out as distorted vocal harmonies layer and crescendo until Vernon returns, practically shouting a series of signature slant rhymes, accompanied by a glitchy bassline, throbbing kicks, and gorgeous chord progressions. In a particularly cathartic moment of the track, Vernon asks: “So what if I lose? I’m satisfied,” though it’s unclear whether he’s begging God for guidance or searching for the answer within himself.
“Cellophane” is one of the most hauntingly melancholy songs of the year. Accompanied by little more than a sparse piano line, and soft “shh-shh” vocal texture, the first single off FKA Twigs’ upcoming album, Magdalene, stands in stark contrast to other songs in the British singer/producer/songwriter’s influential discography. In “Cellophane,” Twigs trades her signature experimental, throbbing, electro-driven RnB for a desolate and sparse soundscape. The somber song centers around a series of questions: “Didn’t I do it for you? / Why don’t I do it for you? / Why won’t you do it for me? / When all I do is for you?” Twigs voice breaks more and more each time she repeats this chorus, until she’s screaming to the void, begging her lover for an answer that she knows will never come.
Charli XCX & Christine and the Queens,
With her new album, Charli, singer/songwriter Charli XCX once again dares to reimagine what pop could or should sound like. Produced by AG Cook, the frontman of the futuristic pop collective PC Music, “Gone” opens with a fairly minimalist beat: a singular bassline punches through the mix with the intensity of sledgehammer, until the track opens up with some claps, shimmering synth lines, and lyrics referencing isolation and crippling anxiety. Charli, along with Christine and the Queen’s Héloïse Letissier ask: “Why do we keep when the water runs? / Why do we love if we’re so mistaken? / Why do we leave when the chase is done?” After the bridge, the production on the track starts unraveling, and Charli and Christine’s voices start glitching, distorting, chopping, and screwing, paralleling the sort of mental breakdown the women elaborate on throughout the song. This track is fun, it’s a total banger, it feels totally fresh, and it is, at the VERY least, one of the most unique pop songs you’ll hear this year.
“Str8 Outta Mumbai”
Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)
First off, I’m completely aware that this is technically cheating. This song leaked 6 years ago, in 2013, along with a bunch of other demos (which now make up his debut project, titled Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones). But it wasn’t officially released until June 1st of this year, so I’m keeping it on the list. Jai Paul’s legacy is hard to describe in a short blurb. He more or less singlehandedly altered the course of the electropop/moody RnB sphere of music with just two songs: “BTSTU” and “jasmine.” Then, after a bunch of demos (along with “Str8 Outta Mumbai”) leaked in 2013, Paul completely disappeared. No photos, interviews, or any indication that he would ever be working on new music again. But on June 1st 2019, Jai Paul made his first post on Twitter since the leaks happened, officially released the collection of leaked demos as a sort of debut project and dropped two brand new tracks (“He” and “Do You Love Me Now,” both great in their own right). “Str8 Outta Mumbai” sounds like literally nothing else I’ve ever heard. Propelled by samples of Ravi Shankar’s “Bala Main Bairagan Hoongi,” Jai Paul adds his own flair with a Prince-esque guitar line, thumping bass drums, and acrobatic synth lines. After the bridge, instead of a funky guitar solo, the song explodes into a gorgeously foreign vocal sample from Vani Jairam. This complex combination of Western pop music and traditional Indian music feels futuristic and familiar at the same time: “Str8 Outta Mumbai” is a revolutionary blend of cultures, eras, and sounds. It’s totally unique, and it’s totally Jai Paul.
Other Stand-out Songs from 2019:
- “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” – Julia Jacklin, Crushing
- “Drunk II” – Mannequin Pussy, Patience
- “Petrol Bliss” – Choker, Forever & A Few
- “Cornelia Street” – Taylor Swift, Lover
- “Not” – Big Thief, Two Hands
- “All Mirrors” – Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
- “7 rings” – Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
- “Where’s the Catch?” – James Blake ft. Andre 3000, Assume Form
Agree? Disagree? Did I leave your favorite song off the list? Let me know!