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.
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.
Here’s the stuff that just didn’t do it for me this year. With one or two exceptions, I don’t listen to these artists expecting their music to be bad… I’ve heard at least a little something I enjoyed from everyone on this list in the past. Some of them just got lazy this year, while others seem aggressively committed to being the most obnoxiously lowest-common-denominator version of themselves that they can be. Neither of those things will land you on the good side of my year-end list-making bonanza. Having said that, I’ve made a good faith effort to embed a song I kinda liked from each of these albums, just to show that these records aren’t all bad.
When going over my least favorite music of the year, I have to point out as always that there is far worse music out there than anything on this list – mostly by artists who turned me off so much with a single or two, or with obnoxious public personas, that I wouldn’t want to listen to an album of theirs to begin with. But these are all sub-par albums I managed to listen to all the way through at least twice, by artists that I’ve genuinely enjoyed in the past (with maybe one exception).
The beginning of a new year, 2010, and a new third digit in our numbering system for years that indicates I’ll likely never see another year with “0” in that slot for the rest of my lifetime, means that for the first time, this relatively young music fan gets to look back at entire decade (these things being commonly delineated by that third digit even if the technical scientific approach says our decade isn’t over until the beginning of 2011) and try to sum it all up in terms of the music that was meaningful to me over the course of nearly a third of my life. That’s right, I’m just a smidgen over 30, which means that the 2000’s (or the “Ought Nots”, as I’ve decided to call a decade of learning what not to do in retrospect) were my first full decade of being a true music fan. I might have come of age and finished high school and college in the 90’s, and I have my fair share of nostalgic tunes to whisk me back to those days. But this most recent decade was when I truly opened up, with the advent of file sharing and social networking making it remarkably easy to burst the bubble of “Christian music only” that I started out with, to go beyond the basic pop/rock styles largely dominant on the radio, and to really dig deep and find my own musical personality, unburdened by rumors of danger beyond the comfortable fences I had previously built for myself.
If the first few months of life as a newlywed weren’t easy for me, it wasn’t because of the marriage itself. It was largely because I was making things hard on myself and the people around me. I was harboring a lot of anger, guilt, and frustration from stuff that happened earlier that year that should have been left in the past, along with ongoing worries about money, and those things were transforming me into a bit of a jaded person. The music contained here helped me to fight that off in some ways, and in a few places, it brings back memories of the sweeter, more romantic moods that should have been the default mode for a couple of newlyweds, but that were at least able to shine through the pinholes into the otherwise dark places in my mind.