Saturday, December 21, 2019

My Top Songs of 2019

Seasons greetings! I’ve been doing this list for almost 10 years now (!), and the day has finally come: I don’t really feel like writing too extensively about music outside of my full-time job where I write extensively about music (see: this). BUT that doesn’t mean I’m not itching to round up my personal favourites. It’s been a strong year, and these songs deserve some rightful love. So here’s a tiny, conversational write-up for each song, proving why they’re definitely worth your while. Without realizing, eight of the top 10 are women — and I think that's a lovely note to end the year on.

30. “The Windmills Of Your Mind” – Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren: There’s a whole other side to my listening that I don’t talk much about, and this accordion-based jazz cover of a French classic is exactly what I mean. It stuns me every time.


29. “Fake Smile” - Ariana Grande:
The perfect clap-back from a woman constantly criticized for things that are none of anyone’s business. Grande remains a reigning pop queen (and sampling Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter” on any song is the secret way to my heart).


28. “Oh No” - Softee
This wins most wildly underrated pop song of the year. If you want to hear my full rant about it, it lives here, but better yet, just bump it immediately.

27. “Just How It Is” – Young Thug:
Would it be a year-end list without Thugger? Of course not. One more time for the cheap seats in the back: We don’t deserve Young Thug!

26. “Con Altura” – Rosalía feat. J. Balvin: And to be honest, we don’t deserve Rosalía either. High on my top songs of 2018 list, Rosalía has the distinct ability to add flare and desirability to anything she touches. “Con Altura” is a vacation in a song.

25. “Hair Down” - SiR feat. Kendrick Lamar: This song dropped when I was in Sault Ste. Marie for a summer wedding, and I’ll never forget walking the eerily quiet streets at sundown with this druggy rap ballad in my ears. It felt hazy and perfect.

24. “Summer Girl” – HAIM: It only takes a few beats of this song to establish its Lou Reed influence. The whole downtempo trip is worth it to get to the lyrics, “Walk beside me, not behind me/ Feel my unconditional love.”

23. “Vent” – Joël: Each year, I think that it’s one of the best signs when one song on this list could have easily been any of the artist’s songs. Such is the case with budding R&B star Joël and his small discography. Don't sleep on him, he's on his way to becoming Toronto’s next big export.

22. “Parachute” – Caroline Polachek: Possibly still better known as Chairlift’s lead singer, Polachek is one of the most exquisite vocalists I've ever heard. Listen to 1:56 onwards and embrace those spine tingles.

21. “Walker Texas Ranger” – DaBaby: Although technically a song I discovered in 2018, it's on a 2019 album, and the real ones know you can’t round up this year without mentioning DaBaby. He’s hilarious and quick, and this beat knocks every single time. 

20. “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd: Gonna tell my kids that The Weeknd was Bladerunner. This upbeat, montage-ready anthem is an infectious, glittery example of his pop prowess. I never listen to it just once.

19. “The Spark” – William Prince: I heard this on the radio after its release and, over the noise of the room, thought Springsteen had released a new ballad. (If you know me, this is the highest compliment.) It’s a bonafide love song about committing amid the chaos, and it’s gorgeous.

18. “Cattails” – Big Thief:
Big Thief have saved rock music. They’re some of the best, most introspective storytellers of this era and this folksy ballad is all the proof needed. Adrienne Lenker sings about people from her past, about taking the train home in June — towards cattails, lonesome loons and grief — and there's something beautifully universal about the idea of yearning for what waits for you, wherever home is.

17. “Have A Little Faith In Me” – Dan Mangan:
I remember going for a Thanksgiving drive with my Mom, nowhere in particular, listening to the 1987 John Hiatt original as a kid, and feeling so swoony and safe. Dan’s version ignited the same feeling. It’s a beautiful ballad no matter how you cut it, and this hazy rework has been in constant rotation since April.

16. “Harmony Hall” – Vampire Weekend: I had the pleasure of hearing this a few months before its release, and I could barely contain my excitement after the opening chords. It’s euphoric, it’s a touch of Grateful Dead, it’s all the best things about summer. For the sake of the season, I recommend listening to this adorable mash-up.

15. “Mr. Lonely” – Midland: I lived in a really small Ontario town until I was 8-years-old, yet somehow, I avoided the cult following that was '90s pop-country. But in 2019, I became a convert of what was born out of that unabashed, honky-tonk and line dance-ready era. I’m still not crazy about a lot of mindless top 40 country, but Midland are the perfect middle ground between old school and radio.

14. “True Blue” – Mark Ronson Feat. Angel Olsen: What’s not to love? Mark Ronson’s masterful production combined with Angel Olsen's crushing vocals, and a glimmering disco melody? It’s all very good.

13. “Only Child” – Tierra Whack: One of rap's most exciting new voices, Tierra Whack is razor sharp — even when dipped in syrupy synth—and has no time for exes who act like children. 2019 showed us that it's about to be Whack's World, and we'll all just be living in it.

12. “Cyanide” – Daniel Caesar: This was my hot and sticky summer night anthem this year. Right when everything’s getting sepia golden, “Cyanide” is the medicine. I’d also argue that this first verse is one of the most breathtaking of 2019.

11. “Living Proof” – Camila Cabello: I tend to get more excited about Camila Cabello pop bangers than anyone else in my life, but this song is so, so good. When I first heard it, I thought, this is the 2019 equivalent of “Always Be My Baby” — those fluttering chords, her falsetto and, oof, the last 15 seconds of the song.

10. “Bags” – Clairo: Clairo is my favourite breakthrough artist of the year — hands down. She hasn’t reinvented any wheels, but only improved and layered on what already existed — fine-tuning her honest brand of lo-fi, emo pop-rock (which we’ll see resurge in the 20s, thanks to her, no doubt).

9. “Bad Guy” – Billie Eilish: I entered into my peak music obsession around the time Shirley Manson, Marilyn Manson and Dolores O'Riordan were coming up, therefore I’m quite partial to how Billie's whole vibe has followed suit. She’s fearless, edgy, a little creepy and I hope her complexity never wavers. Also, the last 45 seconds of this song? I mean.

8. “Sunflower” – Post Malone feat. Swae Lee:
Yeah, I have no cerebral evaluation of this song outside of the fact that it's practically a perfect pop song.

7. “Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten: I’ve had a long, transformative love affair with Sharon Van Etten and her poignant, truthful songwriting. But I’ll wager a bet that “Seventeen” is her best song ever; she took what she had and added some Springsteen. (And that throaty “I know that you’re gonna be” at 3:02 guts me every time.)

6. “Into The Red” – James Blake: James Blake’s production was his tightest and most confident this year. Here, he praises his feminist girlfriend Jamila Jahleel, rightfully. But it’s the sinister, slow tick of the song — the moving ebbs and flows — that sets it far apart from anything else in his repertoire.

5. “Bloody Mother F*cking Asshole” – Your Smith:
The feelings have officially logged on! Martha Wainwright released the original of this song in 2005, and I’ve always loved it. But when my girl Your Smith took it on — leaving it mostly intact — I was reminded of its brilliant reflection on staying afloat after Dads, men, and other people let you down. “I’m young and I’m strong but I feel old and tired, overfired” is quite possibly the realest.

4. “Gone” – Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens: This is one of the most heroic pop songs, well, ever. It’s a banging, synth-pop spectacle; two bold, blunt queens, trading verses (and lyrics like “I feel so unstable, f*cking hate these people/ How they're making me feel lately”) — finding solace in each other during a shaky moment in history.

3. “Prophet” – King Princess:
King Princess is such a breath of fresh air, and I can’t tell you how *not* sick I am of this track after listening to it repeatedly this year. She colours way outside the lines — in her visuals, her stage presence and this kind of thumping trip-hop cool. Also, anything that pulls from Fiona Apple and Esthero influence is a hard yes for me.

2. “Truth Hurts” – Lizzo: This isn’t really a 2019 song, but I'd be remiss to leave it off this list. I got really into this song around the time a relationship of mine was ending this year and, needless to say, it served its purpose — big time. Lizzo for president.

1. “Fallingwater” – Maggie Rogers: This song (well, this whole album) took me to church this year. I went on an incredible trip to Utah with my best friends (and Maggie), which ended up being very cleansing, and something about this powerful anthem helped me realize a boatload of things. Give it a spin and you might hear the same. An instant classic.

If you're interested in listening to the whole batch, here's a Spotify playlist!