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: Not a strong showing for Thrice on their second album post-hiatus. It’s about a third “Hey look, we can still rock hard!”, about a third middle-of-the-road balladeering, and about a third experimental… and honestly, at this point, I’m only really here for the experimental stuff. I’m OK with Thrice making more of a “genre roulette” album in the same spirit as Beggars, rather than forcing themselves to always have a focused sound… but on Palms, the quality from song to song really suffers due to the lack of cohesion, without much of a theme to bridge it all together.
Wow, did I really try to digest fourteen new albums this month? (OK, actually ten albums and four EPs, but still.) That’s a bit much, even for me. September had no shortage of intriguing releases, but I’ve actually had to save a few for October, just to make sure I have time to catch my breath after some of the Friday morning new music rituals that are now regularly stretching well into the afternoon.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Iron & Wine, Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, mewithoutYou, Animal Collective, Thrice, Yoav, Steven Page, Wye Oak, The Last Bison, Frontperson, Metric, Aphex Twin, and Mae.
This is the music I’ll remember the most when I think back on 2016. Not just the great singles (though these albums have plenty of those) or the dark horse picks buried deep in the track listings (tons of those too, though), but the way these records all flow from song to song, creating a continuous listening experience that makes spending nearly an hour of time with each artist (or more, in a few cases) worthwhile. On my most cynical days, I’d say that thanks to both terrestrial radio doing its thing and the ephemeral lifecycle of most songs and artists that go “viral” on social media, the single is a much more easily digestible and obtainable format for popular music nowadays, putting the album in danger of becoming a lost art. But from the very obscure to the decidedly mainstream, every record on this list would be here to prove me wrong.
The final days of 2016 are upon us, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for some long lists that try (perhaps in vain) to sum up the best music I was listening to this year. As always, I’ll start with the individual songs that stood out to me the most. The in-depth reasons why I love these songs so much are mostly spelled out in the album reviews I’ve linked to from here, but in addition to the usual video evidence, I’ve also included a quick blurb for each of the Top 30 entries, just to keep it from being a long list with no explanation whatsoever, I guess.
I’ve also made a Spotify playlist that collects a lot of these highlights, if you’d like to spend a few hours following along. (That one’s ordered more as I discovered the songs, not so much how I’d rank them now, and it’s limited to one track per artist.)
Artist: Thrice Album: To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: Probably the most straightforward record I’ve heard from Thrice thus far – it has an overall “heavy” vibe while not resorting to screaming as often as their old stuff. While not as raggedy as Major/Minor or as stylistically diverse as Beggars, it retains a more unified sound and flows better from track to track, making it their most consistently listenable front-to-back album since Vheissu. A solid set of songs, even if I was hoping for something a little more outside the box this time around.
“Movement” is the word that comes to mind when I think of the late spring and early summer of 2010. It’s a freedom that I almost feel like I was taking for granted, now that I’m thinking about it from the perspective of 2020. The month of May started off with a weekend trip to Vegas. In mid-June, I surprised Christine with another weekend trip, this time to Colorado, where we managed to cram in a National Park visit and one of my “bucket list” concerts all in a single day. In between the two, we moved to a new apartment – only 2 miles away from our old place on Granada near the train tracks, and still technically within the city of Alhambra, but close enough to its northern boundary to have a more peaceful “San Marino ambiance”. On the surface, we were turning over new leaves and doing a lot of fun things, and life was good. Deeper down, more of an unsettling sort of movement was going on. I can still remember the exact moment when a “dark epiphany” hit me that sent me into an emotional tailspin that I’d struggle with on and off for the better part of the next two years. As much as listening to this set of songs instantly brings back my excitement at the newness of our surroundings during that time, it also reminds me of some questions that haunted me at the time – things I would have never thought in a million years I’d ever have to wrestle with.