2019 was a weird year for me, in terms of the music I enjoyed most. A lot of artists put out genuinely great singles, only to follow them up with lackluster albums, EPs as stopgaps between albums, or really nothing at all. It’s a good thing I was following all of my favorite artists on Spotify, as well as some newer ones I was curious to hear more from, or else I might have not heard a good quarter of this list until 2019, if ever. Usually the vast majority of my Top 100 songs for the year comes from my favorite albums released that year, with some spillover from the year before. While that’s still true in 2019, it’s worth noting that nearly a tenth of my list this time comes from EPs or compilations rather than albums, and close to another tenth of the list is made up of non-album singles, that have yet to be attached to a larger collection of songs (assuming that will ever happen at all). While this speaks to the ability of many of my favorite artists to strike while the iron is hot in terms of getting new music out, it also worries me slightly where the longevity of the album format is concerned. But that’s an issue to discuss when I get to my list of Favorite Albums for the year. My Favorite Songs list, while eclectic and probably whiplash-inducing at certain points, definitely required some tough decision-making because there were so many great songs that spoke to me this year. At the end of the day, whether a song is part of a larger narrative or not, that’s really all that matters – whether the song stands out to me as unique in some way, and makes me want to keep coming back to listen to it over and over again. And everything on this list passed that test with flying colors!
As I do each year, I’ll give some insight into my reasons for picking the Top 30, and you can assume after that point that the ordering is somewhat arbitrary. Many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2019 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
In Brief: While all Copeland records require patience at first, this one just isn’t standing out to me nearly as much as the similarly slower and more experimental material on Ixora or You Are My Sunshine. The better tracks certainly establish a mood of being in a dream/state existential crisis that permeates the album, but for every beautifully textured slow-burner, there’s another track that feels like its melody never gets off the ground. Blushing is a reasonably good artistic statement, but a bit of a difficult listen.
My attention span for new releases is going to be somewhat scaled back this year, as I’m making a concerted effort to also catch up on the back catalogues of artists whose more recent albums I’ve enjoyed, but whose past work I’m largely unfamiliar with. I’m doing this primarily because I intend to write up a “Best of the 2010s” column once the decade is over, and I want to make sure I haven’t slept on any early-career gems from bands I got into later on. I’ve sorted all of these back catalogue releases by year in Spotify, and my plan is to devote each month to a specific year. So in January, I revisited my favorite albums from 2010 as well as any “back catalogue” releases from that year that I was previously unfamiliar with. In February, I’ve been doing the same for 2011. So I’m on target to have this particular listening project finished by September, when I’ll probably have relatively few stragglers from 2018 that I hadn’t caught up with yet. There’s no way I’ll have time to really give everything multiple deep listens the way I typically do with newer stuff, but my hope is that I’ll at least be able to identify possible candidates for a personal “best of the decade” list that stand some chance of making a big enough impression on me in a short period of time they’ll feel like essential contributions to an otherwise heavily nostalgic list. We’ll see how it goes – it could be a really fun history lesson, or a timely reminder that many of my current favorite bands didn’t arrive on the music scene fully formed.
But we’ll get to the highlights from that project in early 2020. In the meantime, here are my first impressions of the latest from Polychrome, My Epic, Copeland, Liam Singer, and Dream Theater.
The next order of business as I relive some of my favorite music from the past year is to give credit to the odds and ends that I really enjoyed, but considered categorically ineligible for my “Top Albums” list, either because they aren’t full-length albums, they were re-releases of older material, or they were released in 2014 and I just didn’t catch up to them in time to put them on last year’s list.
The first order of business as 2015 comes to a close is to sift through all of my favorite songs that I first heard this year (or perhaps late last year, and it just took me a little longer to appreciate them) and attempt to put them in order, which as usual starts to get a bit silly below the top 30 or so. Music videos and some live performances are embedded for that first chunk of the list. As I’ve done in previous years, I’ve also got a Spotify playlist that covers a lot of these, limited to a song per artist and more in chronological order of when I discovered them.
In Brief: Sometimes it’s lush and orchestral. Sometimes it’s surprisingly rhythmic. Even when it’s as mellow and moody as you might expect from one of the world’s most cautious rock bands, it’s quite beautifully textured if you just listen closely enough. Ixora is a quiet but commendable comeback for a band I didn’t realize I would miss so much.