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.
This is the list I look forward to writing the most each year, and yet that I seem to always agonize over until New Year’s Eve arrives and I have to click the “Publish” button and freeze these opinions in time. Coming up with a good, solid list of album recommendations at the end of every year seems to be a harder and harder task as time goes by, owing to a lot of artists seeming to lose interest in the album format, perhaps putting out excellent singles or EPs, but with the full-length LP becoming almost an afterthought. Even some of the top entries here were records I got to know at least half of as pre-release singles, or as a collection of EPs, before the full listening experience was made available, and thus I regard them more as strong compilations of songs from the latest phase of an artist’s career rather than as cohesive “albums” in the traditional sense. Still, a few holdouts are doing great things with the LP format, making a case for why it’s worth roughly 40 to 60 minutes of a listener’s time to take in a collection of songs in the order presented. I think that’s an art form that is still worth pursuing, even if the state of the music industry makes it an uphill battle to keep doing so.
First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.
As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Artist: Muse Album: Simulation Theory Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: A kinder, gentler Muse than we last heard on Drones somehow manages to be ridiculous and over-the-top (as usual) without being enough of either of those things for it to really matter. Mining the nostalgia of our childhood and marrying that to modern sounds in off-the-wall ways is fun and all, but when this record tries to throw its hat into the ring of contemporary political discourse, it comes across as vague, outdated, and honestly a tad hypocritical. This is not a great Muse record, but it’s a catchy one, I guess.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Rosanne Cash, The Lone Bellow, Muse, Crowder, Fleet Foxes, Esperanza Spalding, Mumford & Sons, P.O.D., Chvrches, Kevin Max, and My Brightest Diamond.
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: Longtime fans will jump for joy over the return to a less electronic, more in-your-face rock sound, with a generous helping of the usual acts of guitar heroism. But on my WORD, is this thing over-the-top and preachy, even by Muse standards. This is the first time I can honestly say that it’s significantly gotten in the way of my enjoyment of one of their albums.
Muse’s first of three shows at the Staples Center tonight was amazing. Not that I expected any less – they gave the exact kind of visually dazzling and sonically delightful show that I’ve been told to expect from them. “U2 in the 90s on crack” might help to explain some of the visuals, though minus the shock tactics and soliloquies. I suppose some visuals hinted at political meanings to their songs (which aren’t difficult to unearth in their lyrics anyway), but mostly it was a spectacular laser-light show to suit the mood of each song. This band is one of the best when it comes to knowing how to just shut up and play.