Best Music of 2019, Ranked

written by Zach Morrissey on 2019-12-18

Best of 2019

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Year after year, I ask myself: Why?

Why is it that I feel the need to create a best-of list every year for the music that I listen to? Is it that I’m remarkably afraid of dying? Is it that I have this cloying need to validate my music taste? Is it because I’m getting older and lack the cultural wherewithal to make insightful judgments anymore?

Of course! All of those and more!

Back again for 2019, here’s my best songs of the year:

The Back Half of the Playing Field: 50-21

While 2019 for me was pretty weak in terms of albums, there was definitely a lot of great individual singles.

50. Big Sean - Bezerk (feat. ASAP Ferg)
49. Tyler The Creator - Earfquake
48. Lucy Dacus - Forever Half Mast
47. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Thunder - Read My Mind
46. KH, Four Tet - Only Human
45. Vampire Weekend - Bambina
44. James Blake - Can’t Believe The Way We Flow
43. Thee Oh Sees - The Daily Heavy
42. Big Thief - Not
41. The National - Rylan
40. Declan Mckenna - British Bombs

39. The Hold Steady - Denver Haircut
38. Jai Paul - Do You Love Her Now?
37. 100 gecs - stupid horse
36. Alex Cameron - Far From Born Again
35. Charly Bliss - Blown To Bits
34. Carolina Rose - More Of The Same
33. Fontaines D.C. - Boys In The Better Land
32. Flying Lotus - Black Balloons Reprise (Feat. Denzel Curry)
31. Desert Sessions - Crucifire
30. Lizza - Truth Hurts

29. Bon Iver - Naeem
28. Angel Olsen - New Love Cassette
27. Billie Eilish - bad guy
26. Deerhunter - Death In Midsummer
25. Caribou - Home
24. Lana Del Rey - The greatest
23. Whitney - Giving Up
22. Chance The Rapper - Handsome
21. Francis & The Lights - Take Me To The Light (Feat. Bon Iver, Kanye West)

The Stars of 2019: 20-1

These were this year’s standout tracks.

20. Danny Brown - Best Life

After many years of experimenting and pushing the boundaries with albums like Grown Up and Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown seems to be slotting into the same hip-hop veteran style that Snoop wears so well. Through gorgeous production, Brown proves he’s still got rhythmic chops but doesn’t sound like he’s out trying to prove himself anymore. Maybe he even sounds like…he’s enjoying it? Either way, it’s a good look.

Video looks like Spike Jonze aping the old-school Ludacris feel in the best way

19. The 1975 - People

A brash, unexpected encapsulation of so many tired Instagram mantras from a band of poster children for that particular vein of narcissism. This song’s a kitschy embrace of stupid Millenial meme tropes that just never die; endless ‘wholesome’ memes about trying one’s best, endless apathy and/or never wanting to go outside from perpetual anxiety. There’s some truth to all of it all, of course, but hearing them screamed at you over an overwhelming distorted set of guitars just really shows how hopeless some of them sound when taken out of context.

Wake up, wake up, wake up it’s Monday morning and we’ve only got a thousand of them left

Coming from The 1975 of all bands is especially ridiculous, but it’s effective.

18 Courtney Barnett - Everyone Here Hates You

Every year, somehow Courtney Barnett makes it onto this list. While I wasn’t huge on her album with Kurt Vile, there’s pretty much never been a year since Somes I Sit and Think that there hasn’t been an appearance here. This one’s a bit more upbeat than anything on last year’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, and it’s a nice change of pace.

And also, Courtney release a MTV Unplugged in 2019 and no that’s not a joke. And it’s good. What?

17 Anderson Paak - Make It Better

In some ways, my 2019 list looks remarkably like my 2018. There’s a Paak tune, Courtney Barnett, familiar faces that just happen to crank out incredible music year after year. In that way, Anderson .Paak has only been improving, as this year’s “Oxnard” was a distinct improvement upon the prior year’s “Ventura” by nature of having a tighter focus and better songwriting.

16 Carly Rae Jepsen - Want You In My Room

I am not clued into pop enough to have partaken in the mass internet fervor behind CRJ’s 2015 album “E•MO•TION”, but there were a few great tracks on that and this year’s album “Dedicated”. This one thrives on excellent production for a pop song, and it’s just catchy as all get out.

The chorus’s back-and-forth with what must be the default patch on someone’s Microkorg vocoder just somehow works.

15 Snapped Ankles - Tailpipe

The first reaction to this song is normally something like “Who the hell is Snapped Ankles and what the heck is this?".

But the front half of SA’s album “Stunning Luxury” is pure, unfiltered energy. Reviving a Krautrock motorik beat for 2019 in a way that slots halfway between LCD Soundsystem and Can, this grabbed my attention like almost nothing else this year. There’s a bit of a doldrums in the back album where they can’t seem to find a good change-of-pace. That first sequence, from “Pestisound (Moving Out)” to “Rechargeable” is hard to beat.

Seriously, these guys are like, basically not from planet Earth.

14 Georgia - About Work The Dancefloor

Year after year, I look for the song that will dethrone “Dancing on my Own” as the crossover pop hit to define the next several years, and this was the closest anything came this year. Inherits that same energy and adds a unique twist to it.

Her live take on it (in what can only be described at the “Hotline Bling” room) is a jam

13. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Self-Immolate

2019 was the year that Gizz went thrash metal, and I happily followed. Brutal, unparalleled energy from the greatest band down under. I don’t know if that means I’m going to start listening to Iron Maiden or Megadeth more, but this is certainly a cool take on the same vibe.

King Gizzard continues to be like no other band in existence.

12. Black Midi - bmbmbm


By all means, nobody should like this song. But try, just try, to not think about it once you’ve listened. It only gets crazier when they do it live.


*dolphin noises or something, idk*

11. Michael Kiwanuka - You Ain’t The Problem

Michael Kiwunaka’s newest album Kiwunaka instantly grabbed me, and has only gotten better after repeated spins. If I were forced to choose one that I enjoy front-to-back the most of any in 2019, this would definitely be in the running for first place. The instrumentation is gorgeous, the vocal harmonies too. Equal parts Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips and Kamasi Washington, in a way that sounds incredibly natural. The last time I checked in on Kiwunaka was during his first album, so clearly I’ve slept on him a bit.

Kiwunaka was undoubtedly the best appearance on Jools this year, by a wide margin (although Vampire Weekend’s version of Harmony Hall is a notable mention).

10. Mark Ronson - True Blue (Feat. Angel Olsen)

Unfortunately, I missed this one until after summer was already over, but this is definitely my #beachjam2019. Mark Ronson has always been able to pull the best performances out of his features, and Angel Olsen is no exception here. Angel’s last two albums have been excellent but are mostly very serious affairs, so it’s nice to hear her branch out and have a little fun. Play this next time you’re cruising in your drop top down the boulevard on a summer’s night.

I’d kill to find a studio-quality recording of this, but it’s still so good even through phone speakers.

9. Lil Nas X - Old Town Road

Speaks for itself.

8. Hunny / Bleached - Saturday Night

This is like, wow so 00’s emo jam throwback, completed with angsty, over-the-top teenage lyrics.

Because you’re all that I want

And every word that you mock

Sounds so pretty to me

You should die with me, and we can stay in on a Saturday night

It sounds just about as out of place in 2019 as it would have sounded completely dope in 2006. The phone call-and-response bit at the end is a super novel way to feature a guest artist on your track.

The video could seriously be an OK Go vid from early Youtube.

7. Wilco - White Wooden Cross

What would I do

What would I do

If the white wooden cross meant that I lost you?

A surprisingly charming contemplation of life and death by Jeff Tweedy; a veteran of making similar topics enjoyable. The summery, distorted steel drum-sounding piano fills in the background sound like they’re plucked straight from somber post-rock spin on Beach Boys’ “Kokomo”.

Tweedy’s solo performance on KEXP

6. Brittany Howard - Stay High

The last time I listened to anything by Brittany Howard in earnest was the release of the last Alabama Shakes album, which was several years ago. It was surprising, to say the least, to have this unstoppably catchy number come out in 2019. The vocal harmonies come in right after the chorus are so perfectly timed.

She’s so good that her Tiny Desk puts most others to shame. Shines in the acoustic setting.

5. Diiv - Blankenship

This song is a grower if I’ve ever heard one. Diiv channels their inner Closer-era Joy Division on this dark track. Grew and grew on me each listen; that ‘rat-a-tat rat-a-tat’ drum fill just before the instrumental break will get stuck in your head.

This band is so far from the band that release Is The Is Are 3 years ago, but it sounds like such a natural transition.

4. PUP - Free At Last

I’m all about this emo revival. PUP’s made some great jams over the years but this one just hits all of the early 00’s bits so well that it’s undeniable. Plus, this song is hilarious.

Back at it again, calling in you up at 5AM

“Have you been drinking?"

Well of cooooooourse I have

3. Vampire Weekend - This Life

In the six years since Modern Vampires of the City and Rostam’s exit from the band, I was pretty worried that the new Vampire weekend album wouldn’t have the same charm and sense of fun that the earlier ones did. It’s not what I was expecting, but I can say at least that I was wrong on that front. Charming duets with the ladies of Haim, John Prine-esque porch-sittin’ acoustic ditties, silly jam songs. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but it’s certainly got a ton of great content on it.

This Life stands tall as a centerpiece of it all.

Maybe I’m slightly disappointed that the album name “Father of the Bride” wasn’t implying that Quincy Jones (father of Ezra Koenig’s long-time partner Rashida Jones) would help produce or something along those lines. Still hoping on that one.

2. Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan Thomas

If it’s not clear by the rest of the list, I love having artists that I’d previously written off revive my interest. Quite honestly, for all the names I expected on this list for 2019, Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) was probably the last. But this year, him and Phoebe Bridgers teamed up to make Better Oblivion Community Center, which turned out to be one of my favorites of the year. It’s the type of album you can imagine buying a physical copy of just because you want to spin it enough times to where it fits like an old sweater. It’s great stuff, and this was definitely the highlight.

1. Weyes Blood - Everyday

This song came out of nowhere for me. Weyes Blood has always been extremely talented, but even off of her excellent new album “Titanic Rising”, this one stands out. Much more pop, much more bombast. It’s like if you asked Joni Mitchell and Freddy Mercury to team up and write a song that would slot nicely in on the back half of “Abbey Road”. Rising strings, Beach Boys-inspired synth patches, Queen harmonies; as a music production stickler, getting to use this song to break in my new speakers was a real treat.

Some live versions are good, but none compared to the power of the original recording.

Miscelleneous Other Music Things From 2019 Or That I Discovered in 2019