Sunday, December 1, 2019

Favorite Songs of 2019



25. "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish

If bets were to have been placed on Billie Eilish grabbing a number one single and a whole handful of Grammy nominations a few months prior to her debut record’s release, surely most people would have ended up on the wrong side of that wager. Even early on, “Bad Guy” was a clear highlight from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – because Eilish's version of deranged youth seems somewhat self-aware, the charmingly chintzy track balances her goofy reality and her bad gal aspirations.


24. "Graveyard" by Halsey

On her last record, Halsey was poised to become a radio dweller but was amid some growing pains to get there. But if "Without Me," her second number-one hit in the United States, proved she could produce radio airplay contenders, then "Graveyard" speaks to her ability to maintain quality control. This little ear-worm has one of her best choruses since the Badlands days and would seem equally at home on contemporary hit radio or an alt-pop streaming playlist.


23. "Bags" by Clairo

A gentle, organic pop-rock number, "Bags" catches a load of silent feelings with a casual melody, drum beat, and a psychedelic-lite guitar riff. The easygoing track recounts watching television with a crush and gives a quiet voice to the internal tension attached to sharing your feelings for the person on the other end of the couch.


22. "You and I" by Léon

Now, this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you write a bonafide anthem. Léon smolders through her verses before tension between her and an ex bursts into an unbelievably powerful chorus. This track gallops through the flames, with Léon's thick vocals riding atop it. The song's galloping gusto is a triumph: "You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to talk about you and I," she sings, surely with the satisfaction that she, in turn, substituted talking with the writing of an entire record.


21. "Never Mine" by Sigrid

Holy hell, who gave Sigrid permission to go off like this? "Never Mine" is not at all the typical template for a Sigrid song – the rest on her debut record are a bit brighter toned – but it is successful at what it does: The dance-floor filler bolsters the husky voice of a girl who seems as if she would be more comfortable on the floor of an downtown apartment with a webcam and an acoustic guitar than in the studio of any given pop producer.


20. "BKLYNLDN" by Shura

This year, Shura unleashed the sexiest little slow jam, didn't she? Through hushed vocals, she yearns for her girlfriend over the looped horn on "BKLYNLDN," a track that's both a little lonely and a little horny. Then, at the record's midpoint, it cracks open to reveal their blossomed love: "Summer, in love. I think you're awesome," she tells her lover.


19. "Violence" by Grimes and i_o

Another year, another intergalactic Grimes banger, another broken promise of a new Grimes record. (But hey, the record is coming for real this time, it seems!) A saturated electronic collaboration with i_o, "Violence" is the closest that Grimes has wandered toward an electronic dance festival since "Go," a 2013 BloodPop collaborative. The song is so powerful, in fact, that it leads Grimes to a full choreographed number in the music video.


18. "Those Nights" by Bastille

Among Dan Smith's greatest strengths is the ability to capture a mood in song. "Those Nights," pulled from concept record Doom Days, bleeds out with desperation. Even without its haunting video treatment, Smith can heard in need – in search of hope in the dead of night while the sleeping world around him is headed toward disaster – as his velvety vocals take center stage above digital keys.


17. "Slide Away" by Miley Cyrus

Two years ago, Miley Cyrus released one of the best tracks of her career: “Malibu” was a love song that commemorated her reconciliation with Liam Hemsworth. This year, she delivered another career-defining track – though it is the antithesis to “Malibu.” A hazy late night number, “Slide Away” follows another split with her rocky love interest. It’s a stunning track that exudes acceptance, not resentment: “You say that everything changed. You’re right: We’re grown now. So won’t you slide away back to the ocean? I’ll go back to those city lights,” she sings.


16. "Cruel Summer" by Taylor Swift

The year is 2019. Taylor Swift, formerly a twangy country singer and later 1980s pop star cosplayer, has created a song with St. Vincent, an alternative scene staple. And though unexpected, it turns out spectacularly. The surest sign that the Taylor Swift technicolor dreamscape has been restored on her latest record after the thunderstorm that was Reputation, “Cruel Summer” is a spiritual successor to 1989. A sharp drumbeat and vocoded backing vocals cut into pillowy synths as Taylor tells a sensual tale of her love affair with a bad boy type.


15. "Dust" by Broods

Georgia and Caleb Nott of pop duo Broods pushed their boundaries this year. After falling away from their record label, they also walked away from their brand of saturated, melancholy pop. In its place, they delivered something like "Dust," an organic anthem with a chorus that wraps around listeners like a strong coastal breeze. Try listening to it without wailing, "If I should go there no-oooow!" alongside the Georgia – hint: It can't be done.


14. "Fresh Laundry" by Allie X

A lot of y'all are not ready for this conversation, but for those of you who are: Allie X puts in the work and deserves to be crowned a main pop girl. Once a bit of a one-trick pony in the "shouty Spotify synthpop" category, she has revealed versatility and artistic maturity without compromising her love for a sticky hook and outrageous imagery. "Fresh Laundry" takes a turn into the dark, conveying a moodiness that Allie has never explored before.


13. "Hit the Back" by King Princess

Under the homemade video for King Princess' "Hit The Back" sits a very simple description: "A bottom anthem." In its opening seconds, a piano and bare vocal leave listeners wondering about its anthem status... until that chorus hits. Seemingly from nowhere, a drumbeat kicks the song into form: and King Princess lets her lover have it: "Ain't I the best you had? And I let you throw it down, hit the back," King Princess belts out. Damn girl... tell her what's what.


12. "Old Bone" by Wet

Was it expected of Wet to deliver a drum-and-guitar folk track? Nope. Is said Wet track downright magnificent? Absolutely. "Old Bone" carries itself with a casual energy, and vocalist Kelly Zutrau chugs right along with it. Her melody is effortless, and her words, poetic: "There's no use crying anymore. I'm just an old bone in the back of the fridge, and I've got no home if it's not with you." There's a feeling of acceptance in the realization that we sometimes give more than we receive – a contrast to last year's "Lately."


11. "Something Has to Change" by The Japanese House

Much of The Japanese House's debut record memorializes the demise of Amber Bain's relationship, and as stellar as it was, she managed to create something even more brilliant in "Something Has to Change." As infectious as it is moody, the song recognizes an unhealthy cycle then puts an end to it. The song is a bit more energetic than her full-length record, but The Japanese House mainstays are still present: Hypnotizing, digitally thickened vocals, electronic glimmers, and plenty of underlying distress.


10. "Love You For a Long Time" by Maggie Rogers

Putting a pin in the promotion of her debut major label record, Maggie Rogers dropped "Love You For a Long Time" late this year. A folky bounce carries its verses before an effortless country spirit sweeps Rogers away in its chorus: "And in the morning when I'm waking up, I swear that you're the first thing that I'm thinking of. I feel it in my body, know it in my mind. Oh, I, I'm gonna love you for a long time," she sings. Light and lovestruck, it radiates exactly the kind of energy we need from Maggie Rogers.


9. "Even if it Hurts" by Tei Shi feat. Blood Orange

Never has a song been as effortlessly smooth as this collaboration between Tei Shi and Blood Orange. Balancing rawness and romanticism, the two have a vocal chemistry that was destined to be explored over the sensual rhythm and blues track: When they sing atop one another... ugh, it's heavenly. As the pair explores the dynamic between love and pain, "Even If It Hurts" hypnotizes with its seductive, dusky-toned spell.


8. "Don't Start Now" by Dua Lipa

Who would have guessed that Dua Lipa would deliver a song that leans harder into a disco revival than Carly Rae Jepsen's "Julien" this year? As if the cowbell, electronic bass, and digital strings weren't potent enough, Lipa is essential to this song's identity and success. Her husky pipes command the track, punching the melody into the beats' divots: "If you don't wanna see me dancing with somebody, if you wanna believe that anything could stop me, don't show up. Don't come out. Don't start caring about me now," she informs her ex, slapping him with sass.


7. "Gone" by Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens

What screams “gay rights!” louder than Charli XCX proclaiming “gay rights!” with poppers in her hand? Try Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens, tied to a car and singing one of the most integral songs of the summer. The song’s heartbeat is a chunky electronic thump beneath Charli and Chris; our ringleaders, meanwhile, feed off each other's energy. This thing spits sparks, demanding to become the headlining collaboration of Charli’s collaboration-heavy self-titled record.


6. "Now I'm In It" by Haim

Haim promised to release the "most Haim Haimy Haim song" to exist, and they absolutely nailed it. The tight-knit harmonies, the steady bass-line, and the modest electronic flourishes all help elevate "Now I'm In It" to the band's best ranks. (The stellar, subtly comedic video treatment certainly doesn't hurt, either – I might try bathing via car wash and having my coffee via counter top sometime myself.) Though it explores some of Danielle's private mental health struggles, the song carries a smooth bounce: Cool sunglasses and a good strut should be required for listening.


5. "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings" by Caroline Polachek

On her debut solo record, Caroline Polachek guns for plenty aspirations – and perhaps the most successful one is her stab at an accessible pop cut. On the warm, SoCal-infused "So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings," her voice slips into a blur as she creates a hypnotizing pool of harmonies. She warbles her voice like a heatwave, tickling her own melody and eventually contorting her voice to mimic an electric guitar solo. And, of course, the song is comically frank: "Don’t send me photos – you’re making it worse! You’re so hot it’s hurting my feelings," she tells her crush.


4. "Automatically in Love" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Although it seemed unlikely to draw this comparison any time prior to this year, it seems Mariah Carey walked so Carly Rae Jepsen could run. "Automatically in Love," a smooth deep cut from Dedicated, lays Jepsen’s iron-clad songwriting and incredible vocal work over slick ‘90s rhythm and blues. Something in the delivery of that chorus – "We were automatically in love, right away, baby. It’s a real roller coaster when the wind goes the other way." – that is so damn sensual, especially for Carly Rae Jepsen of all people.


3. "Doin' Time" by Lana Del Rey

While Lana Del Rey provided a full album’s worth of career-topping material this year, her incredible cover of Sublime’s "Doin’ Time" was a glowing highlight of this summer. In her effortlessly badass take on the track, she adds musicality to the original's melody, smoothing its edges and kicking it into rhythm. She slides into the track like it’s her own, not at all treating it as a color-by-numbers cover track – and in the process, it legitimizes Norman Fucking Rockwell! as an essential West Coast soundtrack.


2. "Number One Fan" by MUNA

After MUNA filled their debut record with "sad soft pop songs for sissies, angry girls, emo queers and crybabies," the last thing that could have been expected for their return was a slapper like "Number One Fan." In an ideal alternative universe, it was the inescapable song of the summer: With each listen, its gulped melody and gnarly guitar loop beg to signal another intense hairbrush sing-along in front of a full-length mirror. While many other tracks on their sophomore record, Saves the World, are expected – albeit equally stellar – output from MUNA, this track stands as a boundary-pushing standout for the band.


1. "Contaminated" by Banks

Jillian Banks knows disaster: All three of her studio records is splattered in it. On this year's III, however, she captured it in the most mesmerizing fashion yet. A sprawling five-minute track with the ability to expand itself well beyond its emotional limits, "Contaminated" easily asserts itself as Banks’ magnum opus. Contrasting the track’s gritty digital hum and her creaking verses, Banks collapses gracefully into billowing runs at each pleading chorus: "And I wish I could change it. And we’re always gonna be contaminated. And I know what we need: You start letting me go. Our love is tainted," she sings.

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Maira Gall