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

TIER 3: THE BEST OF THE REST

A.A. Bondy
“Fentanyl Freddy”
Enderness (Fat Possum)

Though I’m not super familiar with the mopey Louisiana native’s back catalog, “Enderness” really got under my skin this year. Bondy cleverly injects synths and drum machines into his folk-rooted sound, framing his desolate voice with rich, vivid moods. There are a number of standouts I could have chosen, but this ghostly rumination sits just above the other thanks to its misty keyboards and heartrending subject matter.

Default Genders
“sophie (emphasis mine)” (f/ Beth Sawlts)
main pop girl 2019

Usually when it’s hard to pick a standout song, it’s because an album is really cohesive and zeroes in on a specific sound. James Brooks’ wondrous second LP has the opposite problem, hitting on so many different kinds of sounds from breakbeats to gooey pop to lo-fi drone. “Sophie” is soft and wistful yearner that sees Brooks imagining a problem-free life that will never, ever be theirs.

NoCap
“Ghetto Angels”
The Backend Child (self-released)

The Mobile native’s crushing “Ghetto Angels” isn’t a rap song; it’s a blues song. And a damn potent one at that. Over rolling percussion and gospel keys, the 20 year-old croaks out crushing stories of love and loss, laying out the sad fate of way too many of his friends. It is heartbreaking, but hopefully their memory can push NoCap to fulfill his monster potential and continue to glorify their influence on his life.

Dan Bodan (2014) publicity

Dan Bodan
“I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes…)”
Digital Single

The Berlin-based singer-songwriter’s voice has always had a timeless timbre to it. So it’s no surprise that he knocks this jazz standard from 1939 out of the park. Its careful, stepwise piano melody provides an ideal canvas for Bodan to smear his evocative vocals over. Hopefully, we’ll hear more from him this year.

Chief Keef
“Ain’t Gonna Happen”
GloToven (Glo Gang)

There are some other established artists who have consistently made surprising, unexpected choices, but few have experimented as successfully as the 23 year-old in recent years. On this weepy jewel from his excellent collaborative LP with Zaytoven, Keef pours his heart out over Zay’s trademark, nimble piano playing. “Face dried up, from of all of tears I done cried up,” he laments, wondering why he’s been put through so much while reveling in the man all those tragedies has made him.

The Tallest Man on Earth
“Hotel Bar”
I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. (Rivers/Birds)

“Hotel Bar” finds the Swede sitting by himself on the road, wondering how the people around him are feeling and what will become of him. Though the loneliness is palpable, there is hope pouring out of this track. And it’s not just the affirmative chorus. It’s the triumphant horns, the dramatic pianos, and his evocative falsetto that punctuates the bridge beautifully, providing the sweetest moment of relief. Things will be fine, indeed.

Lana Del Rey
“Doin’ Time”
Digital Single

If you grew up in California in the 90’s, it would be just about impossible not to know at least 6 or 7 Sublime songs. Whether you were in the back seat of your boy Corey’s Jeep, at a school dance, or waiting for your prescription at Walgreen’s, Bradley Nowell’s perma-chill tenor would be forever transported into your eardrums. Evidently, the same was true in Westchester County, which is where a young Elizabeth Grant was soaking up the same low-key vibes. Who knew?

Holly Herndon
“Last Gasp”
PROTO (4AD)
The San Francisco-based drags you deep down the silicon coated rabbit hole that is modern life. Armed with an “AI Baby” and a gaggle of inspiring collaborators, Herndon considers our robo-future and wonders if we’re a hell of a lot closer to singularity than we think. Its final track — the aptly-named “Last Gasp” — features possibly the clearest example of humanity on the project: Herdnon’s mostly-unobstructed voice. That said, it’s unclear whether she’s singing from the perspective of a robot or a lover, which, of course, is kind of the point, right?

Skepta
“Bullet from a Gun”
Ignorance is Bliss (Boy Better Know)
How do you follow up a watershed LP? If you’re Skepta, it’s easy. Just keep doing the shit you’ve been doing. On his fifth LP, the London legend keeps new ingredients to a minimum, instead opting to focus on his lycra-tight verses and off-kilter, self-produced grime beats. On “Bullet from a Gun,” Skeppy embraces his big brother role, doling out words of wisdom and reminding everyone that if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.

Tierra Whack
“Only Child”
Digital Single
Man, is it nice to have some new Tierra Whack songs that are longer than 60 seconds. Though last year’s “Whack World” was teeming with fresh, exciting ideas, the project felt frustratingly unfinished, due to the fact that each song was limited to one minute. That said, she’s been on an absolute tear in 2019, dropping a number of shapeshifting, genre-bending singles, like the playful, “Only Child.” We’re still waiting on a full-length debut LP, but when we finally get it, it’s going to be worth the wait.

Vampire Weekend
“Harmony Hall”
Father of the Bride (Spring Snow)
From the moment I heard their first LP, I knew that Vampire Weekend wasn’t for me. My parents didn’t raise me on Paul Simon. I don’t own boat shoes and have no fucking clue what a Mansard Roof is. And though each project has grown on me, I haven’t found an album that I’ve related to anywhere near as much as their spectacular fourth. It’s a clever, earnest look at adult love, typified by this wonderful, tuneful take on the way we often try to hold on to long-term relationships even once they’ve passed their sell-by date.

Caracara
“New Chemical Hades”
Better EP (Memory Music)
The Philly rockers channel their inner Verve Pipe for a mopey but affecting look at the way addiction separates people from the ones they love and then, from themselves. Vocalist William Lindsey starts things off on a somber note, saying  “I have become too apocalyptic for my friends to want me around.” He then shifts to pleading with them (and likely himself): “I can chay-anhe into something different. Many more characters I can play.” His directness is effective and unsettling, bringing the listener in to his fractured reality but offering a small touch of hope — the possibility of better choices and a healthier tomorrow.

American Football
“Uncomfortably Numb” (f/ Hayley Williams)
American Football (Polyvinyl)
The beloved emo quartet’s third LP is extremely dad rock but not in the traditional sense. The disc is an unflinching, unsettling look at fatherhood. Don’t let its jokey name fool you, “Uncomfortably Numb” is fucking brutal, as vocalist Mike Kinsella wonders how he’s going to connect to his child or his wife, considering how much he’s struggling to connect to his own feelings. Paramore’s Hayley Williams comes through with a vital contribution, playing the role of the long-suffering wife, who is more frustrated than concerned. I have no idea what parenting is like, but fuck, it sounds intense.

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