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.
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.
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.
Right at the tail end of 2008, and into early 2009, I was feeling a pretty strong dose of the economic anxiety that I think a lot of Americans were feeling at that point. Part of it was due to Christine being in transition – knowing she didn’t want to work in daycare any more, but not feeling another calling to a type of job that was both exciting and feasible to pursue. So we were living off of just one income for the time being, and it was hard not to worry about our future plans getting stalled out as a result of this. Fortunately she knew what to do to help get my mind off of the worries, and a pair of trips that we ended up taking along the central California coast in January and February did quite a bit to lighten the mood in that difficult transitional phase of our life together.
In with the New: Animal Collective Fiction Family Josh Ritter A. C. Newman Blitzen Trapper Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
In the fall of 2008, I was struggling with the idea of change. Some doors were closing in my life – experiences I had greatly enjoyed had come to their natural end, and my natural instinct was to fight that. My whole concept of what it meant to be a Christian in a contentious political climate leading up to the election that year was changing pretty radically. And I can see in this set of songs I put together at the time that there is a lot of coming and going represented in the lyrics here, a lot of leaving people and reuniting, and a lot of need for the assurance that no matter how much change we go through, how much we kick and scream and protest what God is trying to do in us or in the world around us, or how much our very concept of faith might evolve as we leave behind the innocence of youth, God’s love for us is the one permanent thing that will never change.
I’m just now realizing how richly nostalgic a lot of the summer imagery is within this set of songs I put together ten years ago. In August of 2008, Christine and I embarked on a truly epic road trip through the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. With the exception of our previous trip to Las Vegas, Christine had never been to any of these states before, and I hadn’t been to that part of the country in quite a while myself. On this trip we took in the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Valles Caldera region of northern New Mexico, Santa Fe, some superlative sections of the Colorado Rockies, Salt Lake City, three Utah National Parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion), and finally Vegas on our way back to L.A. It took 12 days, and it tested my limits as a driver in ways that taught me to think more carefully about how many hours on the road I’d be committing myself to on future trips. But it was a great bonding experience that taught us we could enjoy nothing but each other’s company for long stretches of time out on the open road, and to this day it’s one of my most fondly remembered trips.
In with the New:
My Morning Jacket
The late spring and summer of 2008 saw me finally getting into a couple of bands that I’d been on the fence about for several years, but wasn’t quite in the right headspace to fully appreciate until they dropped new records that year. As I look back on the set of songs I chose for this particular soundtrack, I’m noticing a theme of wanting to fly away or escape from some sort of captivity in a handful of the songs on Disc One, while Disc Two dives deeper into disillusionment with hypocritical leaders, and with the “prosperity Gospel” I was still trying to shake of the last vestiges of as I was confronted by issues of poverty and marginalized groups that had been treated poorly by the Church. Heavy stuff, though I saved a few lighter songs of “romantic gratitude” for the end, just to conclude the set peacefully. There’s also a pair of songs about counting, and a number of songs that switch between 3/4 and 4/4 time, which was apparently a thing I was really into at the time.
In with the New: