The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019, So Far (Honorable Mention)

Jayda G
“Move to the Front” (Disco Mix)
Significant Changes (Ninja Tune)
As more and more self-serious techno bros flood into dance music, artists like Jayda G become more important than ever. Significant Changes imagines a more welcoming dancefloor — an inclusive, joyful place to put your phone down and connect to someone real. Her slippery sound fuses deep house, R&B, soul, and disco with buoyant vocals to exquisite effect, resulting in a sound that’s about bringing people in, not keeping them out.

Roddy Ricch
“Out Tha Mud”
Digital Single

At first listen, you could mistake “Out The Mud” for just another mid-tempo, hyper-melodic party track. But if you pay attention, you’ll hear claustrophobic paranoia seeping out of every pore of the track.  Even when he’s having fun, the rising Compton MC is always wary of his surroundings — scanning relentlessly for jealous people, cops, and even those close to him.

Georgia
“About Work the Dancefloor”
Digital Single
As much as I hate to do it, it’s just so hard to write about the Londoner’s empowering new single without mentioning Robyn. The “Dancing on My Own” vibes are strong here, and the goopy John Hughes movie synths are a glorious foil to the rolling bass-line and help the chorus take flight.

Sky Ferreira
“Downhill Lullaby”
Digital Single

The LA-native’s first new track in the better part of five years is well worth the wait. “Downhill Lullaby” creeps along like a venomous spider ready to strike, pairing Sky’s faraway vocals with a rumbling Type O Negative bassline and romantic Nancy Sinatra strings. I’d be surprised if the rest of her long-awaited follow-up to “Night Time, My Time” sounds like this, but I’d be into it.

Weyes Blood
“Everyday”
Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
Don’t let its nightmarish video fool you, Natalie Mering’s fourth LP is a Laurel Canyon delight. On centerpiece “Everyday,” the LA-based singer-songwriter cranks up the good vibrations, pairing her evocative, powerful voice with big Beach Boys harmonies, pounding drums, and plenty of Hammond organ. The aesthetic is pure 1972, but this is far from mere pastiche.

Stormzy
“Vossi Bop”
Digital Single
Before he was known as one of the most versatile, visionary artists in music, Stormzy was mostly known as a dude who could flat rap his ass off. “Vossi Bop” recalls his epic early Wicked Skengman freestyles with the Londoner absolutely going in over a mantric, undulating beat. It feels a little more like the aperitif than the main course, but fuckin’ ‘ell, it’s tasty.

Hayden Thorpe
“Stop Motion”
Diviner (Domino)
The former Wild Beasts frontperson misses the baritone of his former vocal wingman, Tom Fleming, but his evocative falsetto is in glorious form on his debut solo LP. Though the consistent project has many subtle highlights, “Stop Motion” highlights Thorpe’s prowess as a composer and writer, as well as a vocalist. Over nimble and delicate beds of piano, the Lake District native considers the way we get trapped in patterns long after they continue to serve us and the fear that accompanies trying to break them.

Lil Chicken
“Like I Never Left”
Digital Single
The rising rapper with the ridiculous name has been bubbling up in his native Milwaukee for the last few years, but he looks set to break nationally. “Like I Never Left” is the most potent example of his gloriously messy style that isn’t beholden to a specific vibe or even sometimes the beat. Keep an eye out for this guy.

Erika de Casier
“Good Time”
Essentials (Independent Jeep Music)
There’s nothing like a great first date: the spark, the possibility, the surprise of an instant connection. The Copenhagen producer captures that intoxicating afterglow on the seductive “Good Time.” There’s an unexpected urgency in her voice, which highlights how fleeting the feeling can be and how quickly it can fade if both sides don’t act on it.

Solange
“Dreams”
When I Get Home (Columbia)
There are a bunch of high-points of Solange’s underrated follow-up to A Seat at the Table, but I keep coming back to the mantric, heady “Dreams.” “Dreams, they come a long way, not today,” she repeats over airy keys and a meandering bass-line, setting a scene that’s beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Tink
“Different”
Voicemails (self-released)
Ugh, Tink deserves so much better. Messed around by out of touch men (ahem, Timbaland) and bullshit label drama for almost five years, she’s only recently re-finding the form of her Winter’s Diary projects. “Different” highlights the easy confidence and defiant bravery of the early work, which made her one of the most promising young artists in R&B.

Bruce Springsteen
“Moonlight Motel”
Western Stars (Sony)
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, the Boss’ nineteenth studio album is a gorgeous, age-appropriate collection that can stand up to just about anything in his legendary back catalog. Its closer is an apt representation of what makes “Western Stars” work so well. Springsteen pairs his wise and weary tenor with a delicate, fingerpicked guitar and tasteful strings. The naked arrangement lets the all the wrinkles in his voice out, providing gravity and grace to proceedings.

Slowthai
“Inglorious” (f/ Skepta)
Nothing Great About Britain (Method)
Tension is at the core of the Slowthai experience, so much so that even the jokes have sharp edges. Of course, this is because the Northampton rapper’s music is meant to mirror the pressure-packed world that he grew up in and still inhabits. On “Inglorious,” a high point from his excellent debut LP, ‘Thai gets an assist from his spiritual big bro, Skepta — another guy who knows a thing or two about inner city pressure — to craft one of his most potent songs to date.

Young Nudy x Playboi Carti
“Kid Cudi”
Digital Single
The weirdest, most Internetty success story of the year, the Atlanta rappers’ leaked collaboration is pure sonic joy. Though the song still hasn’t actually came out yet and has appeared under multiple names and by multiple fictional artists (shout out King Zay), one thing’s for certain, I’ve watched that Nets video (Google it) about 4 million times this year.

The National
“Hairpin Turns”
I Am Easy to Find (4AD)
Your mid-level manager’s favorite miserabilists are back with another collection of first world problems. “Hairpin Turns” is a crushing, incisive look at a damaged relationship. But instead of focusing on sorrow, anger, or fear, Matt Berninger explores a lesser-considered, but equally impactful element of breaking up: confusion. The feeling of not knowing how to fix things and, moreover, not knowing whether they’re actually worth fixing.

Julien Baker
“Red Door”
Red Door / Conversation Piece (Matador)

After taking over the world last year with boygenius, Julien Baker is back on her own and ready to take your soul. “Red Door” is a stark, confessional number that injects an extra dose of clever, nimble guitar work into her stark, plaintive sound. An absolute master.

Lucki
“4 U – City Girl”
Freewave 3 (Self-Released)
I haven’t done any kind of drug in about 4,000 years, but the Chicago MC’s underwater flow sounds like what I’d imagine modern drugs feel like. On “4 U – City Girl,” Lucki is floating in a sea of sub-bass and slithering keys, barely keeping his head above water.

Santi
“Sparky”
Mandy & The Jungle (Monster Boy)
One of the leaders of Nigeria’s exciting new alternative sound, Santi has this uncanny ability to just float over the beat, morphing his voice into an easy, island breeze. “Mandy & The Jungle” is full of ultra-lithe grooves, but “Sparky” is a great place to start.

Bill Callahan
“Watch Me Get Married”
Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City)

Gratitude is seeping out of every pore of Bill Callahan’s wonderful 17th LP: an earnest look at fatherhood and aging. And though it’s just about impossible for me to pick out a favorite, “Watch Me Get Married” feels indicative of the album’s core thesis, which is to take a moment to pick out the beauty that exists in the everyday.

Faye Webster
“Room Temperature”
Atlanta Millionaires Club (Awful)
“I should get out more” goes the Atlanta singer’s swooning ode to post-breakup wallowing. Her sage wisdom is delivered over easy guitars and faraway pedal steel that somehow would be a good soundtrack to both the Hula and the Square Dance.

Jessica Pratt
“Crossing”
Quiet Signs (Kemado)
On “Quiet Signs,” Jessica Pratt weaves another stunning collection of witchy lullabies that whisper and hiss their way under your skin. “Crossing” almost feels like something you’d hear at Red Faire, but with a depth and power that will take your breath away if you let it. 

Tinashe
“No Guidance”
Digital Single
As a long-term fan of the LA singer, it’s been so frustrating to watch how her career has unfolded over the last five years. Her last two LPs have frustratingly buried her undeniable talent in overwrought, overcooked arrangements and endless label hiccups. For that reason, it’s so nice to hear her toss out a loosey like this one that highlights her playful side. More like this please, Tinashe.

Polo G
“Dyin Breed”
Die a Legend (Columbia)
From what I gather, the kids are reallllly into Polo G, and it’s not hard to see why. His sound is laced with passion and pain, and the Chicago native pours his heart over this piano-driven, mid-tempo cut. Unlike many of his peers, Polo doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify what he’s been through, preferring to paint vivid, honest portraits that are elevated by a nearly endless supply of catchy melodies.

Field Music
“Fade Into the Dawn”
Run For Cover (Matador)

Kevin Sullivan’s ramshackle, wistful lo-fi folk-pop speaks to the 90’s kid in me. His nostalgic strummers conjure up memories of a Sharpie on a mixtape and a crumpled up note to a crush. Sure, it’s not a particularly novel sound, but I’ll always be a sucker for it.

Lil Nas X
“Old Town Road” (f/ Billy Ray Cyrus)
7 EP (Columbia)
Life is too short to be mad about this song or this incredibly delightful kid. It’s great. It’s catchy. You know you love it. Just embrace it.

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