In the grand scheme of things, 2019 was a year with precious few bright spots. Fortunately for this column, music was one of them. Artists from the worlds of rap, metal, punk, folk, calypso, dance, R&B and pop all gave me that most precious of cultural gifts – a few minutes to focus on something beautiful. Here are my top 25 songs of 2019.
25. Steve Gunn – “Vagabond”
This swirling acoustic ramble feels like it could go on forever. It’s almost disappointing when it doesn’t.
24. Charly Bliss – “Under You”
“Every time you say my name I think it’s a mistake,” marvels Eva Hendricks on this absolute sugar rush of a pop-punk love song.
23. Moon Tooth – “Awe At All Angles”
As singer John Carbone compares himself to whitewater rapids, the rest of this Long Island prog-metal quartet takes us on one hell of a ride.
22. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (ft. Anderson .Paak) – “Giannis”
Anderson .Paak’s gliding croon and formidable bars are perfectly suited to this twinkling groove from Madlib. But that doesn’t stop Freddie from outshining them both.
21. Goldlink (feat. Maleek Berry & Bibi Bourelly) – “Zulu Screams”
Over an unrelenting, percussive Afropop beat, GoldLink doesn’t drop rhymes. He pours them, his preternatural flow a tributary to oceans of hooks, rhythms, and overwhelmingly good vibes.
20. Normani – “Motivation”
If an early-’00s R&B revival is upon us, I am here for it.
19. Jessie Ware – “Mirage (Don’t Stop)”
Club music tends to bludgeon. But in Jessie Ware’s hands, it caresses. “Last night we danced / And I thought you were saving my life,” she sings with gentle confidence on “Mirage,” as the irrepressible bass line whisks our inhibitions away.
18. Ozzy Osbourne – “Under the Graveyard”
Ozzy Osbourne’s voice has a troubled, mournful quality that has elevated even the dopiest of lyrics. And on this impeccably produced power ballad – his first single in nine years – our 70-year-old Prince of Darkness shows us he’s absolutely still got it. Pondering the finality of death, in a voice that can still sound stunningly forlorn.
17. Otoboke Beaver – “datsu . hikage no onna”
This Kyoto punk quartet has tapped into a reservoir of adrenaline potent enough to reanimate a long-dead heart.
16. Purple Mountains – “Maybe I’m the Only One for Me”
This sad-sack country jaunt will have you LOLAL-ing (laughing out loud about loneliness): “If no one’s fond of fucking me / Maybe no one’s fucking fond of me.”
15. Idle Hands – “Nightfall”
If you like your Satan worshipping with a spoonful of sugar, don’t sleep on these Portland, OR, occult rockers. “Nightfall” has hooks to rival The Cure and Blue Oyster Cult, along with an irresistible dark energy all its own. So grab your sacrificial daggers – and dance!
14. Rico Nasty – “Hatin”
Rico made a Neptunes beat her own in 2018. In 2019, it was Jay-Z’s turn.
13. Weyes Blood – “Everyday”
The Beatles made it sound easy, but “I need love” can be a pretty terrifying thing to say out loud. Weyes Blood makes this admission, over and over again, wisely bringing a soothing, 1970s soft rock orchestra along for the ride.
12. Little Simz – “Boss”
Take a goddamn seat, Bruce Springsteen.
11. Helado Negro – “Imagining What To Do”
Calypso Nick Drake.
10. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Too Much”
One of our finest pop alchemists applies her singular lovestruck energy to Mae West’s famous adage, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
9. Megan Thee Stallion – “Realer”
Right now, nobody on earth is rapping with more authority than Houston emcee Megan Thee Stallion. On “Realer,” she wields syllables like free weights, knocking us out at the end of every couplet, while only getting stronger for the next one.
8. Angel Du$t – “Big Ass Love”
This supergroup of moonlighting hardcore screamers happens to be incredibly good at writing catchy power-pop love songs.
7. Brutus – “War”
This Belgian trio delivers a post-metal ballad that has a lot in common with Metallica’s “One” – a simple title; martial lyrics; an extended dramatic intro; a thrilling, headbanging flashpoint. But Stefanie Mannaerts is a better singer than James Hetfield, and a better drummer than Lars Ulrich. “One” was a ground battle. This is an airstrike.
6. Annika Norlin – “Showering in Public”
A staggeringly beautiful folk song about locker room anxiety.
5. Maxo Kream – “Meet Again”
This gifted Houston rapper pairs heartbreaking rhymes about an imprisoned friend with a beat that’s as smooth as a summer cocktail. This dissonance is brilliance.
4. Bill Callahan – “What Comes After Certainty”
Magic is for rom-coms. The real shit, the chills-up-your-spine shit, is knowing, without a doubt, that you have found your person.
3. Charli XCX – “Official”
“You know the words to my mistakes / You understand because you made ’em too,” sings Charli XCX on this jaw-dropping ode to the interlocking connections and somehow-perfect imperfections of a loving relationship.
2. Denzel Curry – “Speedboat”
As partly-cloudy piano notes do their best to dampen the mood, this gifted Florida emcee clusters his syllables in irresistible ways, all while completely subverting what most of us would expect from a Miami rap song about an expensive sea vessel.
1. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”
Lizzo reminds us that love is the best kind of devastating, singing with real, visceral, mascara-streaked joy. An instant classic.
Honorable Mentions: 2 Chainz (ft. Lil Wayne & E-40) – “2 Dollar Bill”; Anderson .Paak (ft. Brandy) – “Jet Black”; Bleached – “Hard to Kill”; Caribou – “Home”; Carly Rae Jepsen – “Everything He Needs”; Charli XCX (ft. Christine and the Queens) – “Gone”; Coldplay – “Cry Cry Cry”; Cupcakke – “Squidward Nose”; Czarface – “Call Me”; Danny Brown – “Theme Song”; Donny Benét – “Second Dinner”; Gang Starr – “Bad Name”; Haim – “Summer Girl”; Hatchie – “Obsessed”; Iggy Pop – “James Bond”; James Blake – “I’ll Come Too”; Jamila Woods – “Muddy”; Lana Del Rey – “Love Song”; Lil Nas X (ft. Billy Ray Cyrus) – “Old Town Road (Remix)”; Maren Morris – “The Bones”; The Mountain Goats – “Clemency for the Wizard King”; Neil Young – “Eternity”; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Waiting for You”; Nicki Minaj – “Megatron”; Sudan Archives – “Glorious”; Tanya Tucker – “I Don’t Owe You Anything”; Tyler, the Creator – “Earfquake”; Vampire Weekend – “Sympathy”; Van Morrison – “Dark Night of the Soul”; Wiki – “Fee Fi Fo Fum”; YBN Cordae (feat. Anderson .Paak) – “RNP”; Young Thug (ft. Lil Baby) – “Bad Bad Bad”