We’ve arrived at the final round, folks. The true heavy-hitters. The absolute classics that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep going back to over and over when they’re ten years, twenty years – heck, maybe even fifty years old if I’m fortunate enough to still be around then!
The realization that I had a pretty interesting cross-section of artists ranging from household names to the downright obscure on this list piqued my curiosity about whether there was some reasonable way to measure exactly how popular each of them were. It’s honestly not something I’ve ever paid super close attention to – I can usually get a sense of when someone whose music I happen to like has achieved A-list celebrity status around the world, because I’ll hear their music pretty much everywhere when I’m out and about in public, and their concerts will usually be prohibitively expensive. On the other end of the scale, when an artist is so-small time that only a small cluster of people seem to know about them, merely acquiring their music or finding out more about them for the sake of writing a review can be challenging. Word of mouth, and recommendations from other artists I enjoy, are often my primary means of getting into an artist, so for pretty much everyone between those two extremes, I often don’t know how many like-minded fans there are, or what demographic is most into them, until I catch a live show and start people-watching.
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.
Artist: Of Monsters and Men Album: Fever Dream Year: 2019 Grade: B-
In Brief: While this isn’t the total synthpop makeover some reviews might have had OMAM fans dreading, the band’s decided move away from the spirited folk/rock of their early years isn’t a particularly exciting one. Their music is still quite melodic, but in several places on this album it’s quite languid, employing a lot of the same sonic tricks over and over, and surprisingly under-utilizing their charismatic lead singer Nanna on far too many tracks. This is a marginally enjoyable stumble in the discography of a band desperate to carve out a new identity for itself.
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.
Artist: Of Monsters and Men Album: Beneath the Skin Year: 2015 Grade: B-
In Brief: I hate to put the “sophomore slump” tag on this one when it’s a reasonably enjoyable pop/rock record by normal standards and it would be a promising first album coming from a brand new band. But coming off the high from OMAM’s actual first album, My Head Is an Animal, it’s impossible to avoid making comparisons between the two, and even taking into account that they were going for something darker and more melancholy here, the songs just don’t leap out at me like nearly everything on Animal did.
For the third and final entry in this long-winded look back at the music that mattered to me this year, I present the cream of the crop – the albums that provided me with the most satisfying listening experience from beginning to end, which is a much more difficult feat than simply hooking me with a catchy song or two, and arguably a feat many artists have given up on in the age of digital music that can just as easily be released for bite-sized consumption on a sporadic schedule, rather than thought through as a fully-formed artistic statement. These albums don’t have that much in common with one another, but taken all together, they represent the weird snowball of influences that make up my musical tastes these days, ranging from old favorites who have resurfaced after lying dormant for many years, to buzz-gathering indie artists who have begun to break out of the blogosphere and into some version of “the mainstream”, to those who have given up entirely on mainstream fame and are content to Kickstarter and Indiegogo their way into fans’ hearts with no traditional support structure whatsoever. It’s all a very weird mix, but it’s all quite delicious.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.