Sunday, January 12, 2020

YEAR END LISTS: The 20 Best Singles of 2019



This list was the hardest one to make without a doubt. There was so much good music put out this year that I revised my list at least 10 times. Even in the time it took me to type this, I changed the list from 15 to 20 songs. Even with how many times I've changed it, I'm still very confident in my list. Without further ado, let's begin:

20. Land of the Free - The Killers


The Killers going political was something I didn't expect to hear this year but given the state of our country, I welcomed it. Singer Brandon Flowers does not hold back and belts out everything on his mind while a choir in the background compliments him. This song is very in your face, with lyrics like, "And we got more people locked up than the rest of the world / Right here in red, white and blue (I'm standing, crying) / Incarceration's become big business / It's harvest time out on the avenue," and, the even more blunt, "So how many daughters, tell me, how many sons / Do we have to have to put in the ground / Before we just break down and face it: We got a problem with guns?" Hopefully the rest of the yet unreleased "Imploding the Mirage" album is more cheery than this.

19. Follow God - Kanye West


Perhaps the best song on this entire album. This song proved that Kanye can still be great when he chooses too. His flow on this song is great, the beat goes hard, and the sampling he chose works perfectly. The song talks about Kanye's struggles with his faith and how he wants to be as faithful as possible but sometimes falls short. It also touches on the topic of his relationship with his father and he tried to give his father advice but they started spazzing out on each other with his father telling him, "That ain't Christlike."

18. Adore You - Harry Styles



This song feels very vintage. Almost like something that could've dominated the pop charts in the 70s. Harry's voice is silky smooth and the instrumental is amazing. Acoustic guitar strumming away and groovy drums in the background make this thing perfect for driving into the sunset. The lyrics tell a tale of love, with Harry saying he would walk through fire for this love interest and that this love interest doesn't have to say she loves him, he just wants to speak his mind.

17. Lo/Hi - The Black Keys


The first single from The Black Keys after a 4-year hiatus is an excellent return to form. Another song that hits the nostalgia button. Singer and lead guitarist Dan Auerbach actually comes through with a really solid, toe-tapping, riff. Given the state of rock music, the amount of guitar this song has is astounding. Dan's solo at the halfway point of this song is perfectly placed and takes the song from good to great. I'm very excited to have The Black Keys back.

16. Someone You Loved - Lewis Capaldi


This is definitely one of the saddest songs I've heard this year. It's made for looking out the window at 2 in the morning, headphones on, while you're balling your eyes out. In this song, Lewis is singing from the heart. He's been down this road before and is writing from a familiar place. It's a song about giving someone your everything and they still leave. The song itself is pretty bare, just Lewis and a piano, but it's the emotion of the song that makes it so great. I'm excited to see where he goes from here.

15. The London - Young Thug ft. Travis Scott & J. Cole


This song has some of the cleanest production I've heard from a rap song in 2020. The three of these guys have such great chemistry together and I hope we get more from them soon. The beat has some cool synths, crisp drums, and bass that is loud, but not overpowering. Travis Scott's autotuned chorus is wonderful as he floats right on top of the beat. J. Cole and Thugger come through with some pretty great verses with Cole talking about his riches while Thug talks about, well, it's Young Thug. This song still remains my favorite from So Much Fun. 

14. Arabesque - Coldplay


This song is definitely the most interesting thing Coldplay released in the past decade. This song is unlike anything I would expect from these guys. A head-bobbing guitar riff, saxophones, French lyrics, and even cursing for the first time in any Coldplay song ever. It's the lead single from the Sunrise half of their new double album and to be honest, that's exactly what the last portion of this song sounds like. The crashing of cymbals lead into a huge crescendo of horns and thumping bass. The lyrics themselves are about how, though we're different "we share the same blood." 

13. all the good girls go to hell - Billie Eilish



My pick for favorite song on this incredible debut album from one of the most interesting pop stars in the world right now. FINNEAS's production on this song is so sick. There are so many little things hidden in the background that you would never notice unless you pay attention. The instrumental bits between chorus and verses might honestly be some of Billie and FINNEAS's best work. Billie comes through with her usual, quiet style but absolutely kills it. Billie has a huge road ahead of her, and given how incredible this album was, it can only get better from here.

12. Jesus is the One (I Got Depression) - Zack Fox, Kenny Beats



This song is supposed to be a joke but I do unironically enjoy it. Kenny Beats' production is great and made an amazing beat even though he knew what he was getting into. As for Zack Fox? Dear god. It's obvious that this is freestyled because he says some of the most outlandish things I heard all year. He wastes no time making the listener laugh as the third line is "If you ain't a Christian imma stab you in the face / If it ain't bout Jesus imma hit you with this K." He also goes on to rap about how instead of a girl coming over for loving, she should just come over to charge her phone, or how he's gonna buy a whip just to crash it into "white-owned businesses." Wait, I didn't even talk about how he's gonna rob his mom to buy "an old Chevy." As Kenny has said himself, Zack Fox is gonna ruin his career.

11. EARFQUAKE - Tyler, the Creator ft. Playboi Carti


Hours before IGOR dropped, Tyler tweeted saying "earfquake gon go." He was right, as the song was a smash on the radio and propelled Tyler into the mainstream. There isn't a better Tyler song to make him explode. The twinkly piano, smooth bass and drums, and Tyler beautifully harmonizing with Jessie Wilson is the type of song to transcend to. Playboi Carti's feature is perfectly placed, all the instruments slowly build up before pausing and giving way to some (surprisingly understandable) Cartinese. Even though it sounds so happy, the song is actually so sad. The phrase "Don't leave, it's my fault," is repeated so much that the sadness can't help but shine through the lyrics. 

10. Blinding Lights - The Weeknd



The Weeknd making a synth-pop song? I would've never guessed but stranger things have happened. Of the two singles he's released so far, this one is miles better. This song is straight out of an 80s action movie. The sorta song that makes you just wanna jump in your car and drive fast. The keyboard is played in such a way that you can sing along to it, the drums are groovy, and Abel comes through with a solid vocal performance. The lyrics talk about how Abel's love interest lights up his life like the Las Vegas strip. I'm very interested to see where this album goes because I like the sound he has put in these first two teasers.

9. It Might Be Time - Tame Impala


Kevin Parker has done it again. This was the first of the singles he's released that made me pause the song to tell myself, "Holy sh*t, this is fantastic." The song sees Parker realizing that everything changes with time, and how he needs to try to adapt to it. The verses are simple with some electronic drums, some keyboards, and Kevin's reverbed voice. It soon drops out to reveal some bass guitar before BOOM. The chorus just explodes in your face. Loud, booming, distorted drums, a siren wailing in the background before it goes back to the simple keyboard and drums. The musical changes on this song might be my favorite part of it. How we go from a huge, Supertramp style chorus to part two of Yes, I'm Changing. With one month left until this album drops, songs like these beg the question, what else does Kevin have up his sleeve?

8. The Runner - Foals


Foals are a band that haven't been on my radar for a while. However, when I saw other bands I loved like Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood hyping up the second part of their double album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, I decided to give it a try. This song is a definite standout in the tracklist and is one of the best opening songs on an album I've heard this year. The guitar riff is simple, but killer and Yannis's vocal performance is absolutely terrific. The chorus on the song is explosive with a synthesizer going through a terrific chord progression while Yannis sings about how if he falls down, that's how he knows to keep on going. The guitar solo in the latter half of the song follows the same simple, but apt pattern most of this album has. If you want a solid rock song with great lyrics, this is it. 

7. Make it Better - Anderson .Paak (ft. Smokey Robinson)



This was the single that gained my interest in another two-part album from one of the hottest Hip-Hop/R&B artists in the game right now, Anderson .Paak. The song is downright sexy, even though, the lyrics deal with quite the opposite. The song is about relationships slowly crumbling but finding hope and trying to find that spark to reignite the fire that was once there. The verses have some funky guitar and drums while Anderson's smooth voice just makes this song so much better than it already was. The chorus is insanely catchy and just makes you wanna dance. (Do. You. Wanna Make It Better) This is one of those songs that just makes you feel good, no matter what mood you're in.

6. NO HALO - BROCKHAMPTON



This song sees the boys of BROCKHAMPTON broken down and searching for help. From the first line, "I don't know where I'm going," we know that this is a different BROCKHAMPTON than we knew on the Saturation Trilogy. The beat on this song is pretty great, some plucky guitars, synths swelling in the background, the whole thing is very airy and atmospheric. Each verse takes on a different struggle for each of the members. Matt Champion goes first rapping about infidelity and getting kicked out of his home by said cheater. Meryln Wood comes through with one of the darker verses talking about his depression, and how sometimes, he only gets out of bed because he makes himself believe there's a timebomb under it. Dom verse also deals with depression, and how it put him, "into places where [he's] stuck in the seams," but tells the listeners that everybody can find a way to make it through. However, the most standout verse is the last one from Joba, who is speaking a true story when he says that he stumbled into a church, drunk. He speaks of how he thinks about himself, wondering who he is and sometimes believes himself to be better than God at times. Each verse tops the next and proves the excellence of this collective.

5. Harmony Hall - Vampire Weekend



Bed: Made, Sweater: On, Khakis: Starched. The first song from the Ivy-League Indie Darlings after 6 years of silence is a very grand return. The song starts off with some arpeggio guitars in a sort of jam band style, almost like something you'd hear from the Grateful Dead. The Pre-Chorus might be the best writing in this song. "Anger wants a voice / Voices wanna sing / Singers harmonize til they can't hear anything / I thought that I was free from all their questioning / but everytime a problem ends, another one begins." It's sung alongside a pounding piano, maracas, and some subtle bass guitar. If there's one thing that sticks out, it's that Ezra Koenig's voice is still as great as it was on their self-titled debut album. His falsetto's still rock and he still sings with a ton of emotion. This song is in ways, a political commentary, with lines like, "Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight / Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified." It finds a way to be political, but not in your face political like a few other songs on this list. It's just enough to where it doesn't stick out if you don't look for it.

4. Stay High - Brittany Howard



The first time I heard this song was at ACL Fest this past October. Brittany had an afternoon set and her performance of this song nearly made me shed a tear. The instrumental is downright beautiful. Some twinkly piano, subtle percussion, acoustic guitars are all playing in the background while Brittany belts out the song. Her voice is second to none. It hits every feel good bone in my body and gives me chills every time I press play. The song is dedicated to her father who was a very prominent figure in her life and who Terry Crews portrays in the video above. The song speaks about life in a small town and finding a person that you want to stay with forever because they make the singer feel like she's high.  The second verse dives into that small-town life, talking about how, where's she from, everybody walks around frowning because they grind and work all day, but when the sun sets, everybody's mood changes and they start laughing, hooping, and hollering. 

3. Circles - Post Malone



While I never came around on this album, I can't deny that this song is a banger. Posty's genre-hopping style, in my opinion, reaches it's peak here. This song has a bit of a Tame Impala flair to it, with a groove similar to The Less I Know The Better, even though Post claims he was going for a Fleetwood Mac vibe. The instrumental is very calming with some sweet acoustic guitars and a fat bassline. The lyrics do make it sound like Post had been listening to Rumours as they deal with a relationship that he wants to work, but keeps going through obstacles, making him feel like he's running in circles, with the last line of the first verse saying, "You don't believe it, we do this everytime." The chorus melody is super catchy, but the lyrics are super sad on deeper inspection. The lyrics talk about how he needs to feed the relationship's flame because he doesn't want to let go, and how he just wants runaway but he can't because he's stuck in this loop. Even saying that he dares her to do something so he doesn't take the blame again. For an album with so many weak points, this is the highest high.

2. People - The 1975


This is The 1975? This is Matty Healy? This is the same band that wrote Chocolate and The Sound? Really? This song is an angry, energy-filled, politically charged rager that was written to open the pit and get everyone bouncing. The song sees the band in a way that we've never seen them before. Instead of singing softly, Matty is screaming his head off. Instead of cute, disco sounding guitars, the distortion pedal is turned to 10. Instead of drums keeping the groove and adding an interesting fill every now and then, they're pounding away like they're being played with hammers. And last but not least, the production is so raw rather than it being super polished like it usually is for this band. The lyrics are a call to action of sorts, offering Healy's critique of the world today. The pre-chorus itself might be the most scathing part saying, "Well, girls, food, gear / I don't like going outside, so bring me everything here." It also hits topic of climate change and how there's so much we can do to help save our planet but "we need to stop just watching sh*t in bed." Although this may be a one and done thing for this band, I would gladly welcome more songs like this from Healy and company as it's one of their most interesting releases ever.

1. Barefoot in the Park - James Blake ft. ROSALIÁ



This song is the equivalent of laying down on the beach and watching the sunset while the waves crash. It's so slow and beautiful and passionate. James said that this song was inspired by a movie of the same name, telling Genius, "The premise, I believe, is that a man who is pretty uncomfortable, pretty anxious, basically, meets this woman and she brings him out of his shell slowly. He feels free enough to be barefoot in the park. I resonated with the story. I just think that’s a beautiful premise also for a song." The song starts off with some chimes and some keyboards hanging around in the background, then blooms into a Rosaliá's first verse about a lover who came down from the heavens and hit her like a ray of sunlight, before breaking her heart and returning above the clouds. James Blake comes in with a super introspective pre-chorus about how his lover has impacted him in such a way that he doesn't need hallucination. The second verse goes back to the "breaking out of his shell" mantra, with Rosaliá singing about how she has all she wants with this lover, and when he's by her side, the past stays behind. James and Rosaliá mend together beautifully on this song, the chemistry between them is incredible. The outro of the song is pure bliss, there's so much going on in the background but it manages to work together and create something truly beautiful. Don't sleep on Rosaliá, she has a bright future ahead of her.

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