I’ve put together another installment of my year-end favorite song mixes – this time it’s “15 songs from 2019.” There are a lot of really special songs that didn’t make the mix this year. I listened far and wide in 2019, but ultimately spent most of my time with several AMAZING records that came out this year (Vampire Weekend, Pavo Pavo, Tyler, The Creator, Burna Boy, Dangermouse & Karen O, Bon Iver, Leif Vollebeck).
In the end, I chose these fifteen and strung them together into a one-hour mix that represents my year of music pretty well. Download it as one long mp3, or try the Spotify version, or Google Play version if you prefer.
Below is the track listing, a favorite lyric from each song, and my thoughts about each song. Let me know what you think!
1. Fool’s Game – Glen Hansard
“I’m taking it with you and no other”
I first started to really appreciate Glen Hansard after listening to his incredibly good tribute to Jason Molina, the EP “It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina.” Early this year, Hansard released “Fool’s Game” as an advance single for his album, “The Wild Willing.” I just love the epic and surprising journey this song takes me on. Each time the swell comes, it arrests me and takes me with it, spitting me out at the end, and soothing me with soft sounds and a voice singing words I can’t decipher, but I do understand.
2. Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You – Julia Jacklin
“What if I cleaned up? what if I worked on my skin?”
I have to mention Jason Molina again because it struck me one day as I listened on repeat—this Julia Jacklin song evokes a lot of what is so great about Magnolia Electric Co. records. It comes brimming with tension and energy, teetering on the edge of something. A superb rock song. What an amazing voice (the whole record is worth a listen).
3. What It Is – Angel Olsen
“You just wanted to forget, you just wanted to forget.”
Angel Olsen took her songwriting and sound to the next level on “All Mirrors.” The entire album is really special. I was fortunate enough to see her and her phenomenal band at The Riviera this year—one of those shows where the songs take on new, subtle layers of glory that make subsequent listens all the more enjoyable.
4. Every Woman – Vagabon
“We reserve the right to be full, when we’re on our own.”
I first heard Vagabon as the opener for Angel Olsen. “Every Woman” captures most what i liked about that live show: a unique voice and lots bubbling below the surface.
5. The Way That You Feel – Leif Vollebekk
“You took me where I want to go, to the way that you feel.”
I’m a huge Leif Vollebekk fan, and his new record, “New Ways,” is everything I hoped it would be. It was difficult to pick just one song from the record, because almost all of them are special to me in some way. Even now i’m second guessing myself (Hot tears? Blood Brother? I’m not your Lover?). I saw Leif play at Lincoln Hall and the music and performance was just out of this world. The players were excellent, and the songs tugged every heartstring available and some that I didn’t even know existed. I highly recommend the record and the live show.
6. Ministry – Karen O & Danger Mouse
“Make me crystal clear, cast my heart anew.”
I got hooked on this record on the first listen. The grooves and music themes that get built on and reflected throughout the record make this one of my go-to records for Sunday mornings or chill evenings. This is a great collaboration, and for me the record is more compelling than what either artist typically produces on their own.
7. HIGHEST IN THE ROOM – Travis Scott
“Hope I make it outta here.”
This is my guilty pleasure of the year. I have listened to this one song more than any other and I really can’t stop. Mike Dean production FTW. Hope I make it outta here.
8. Dangote – Burna Boy
Burna Boy’s “African Giant” is a complete jam. It became my go-to selection for morning workouts and late night pinball sessions alike. It’s nearly impossible not to move your body to these songs. I picked “Dangote” for this list because for months whenever it came on I’d run over to my phone to see which track it was (but could never remember!). “Anybody” from the same record is another one to seek out.
9. EARFQUAKE – Tyler, The Creator
“I just need some confirmation on how you feel, for real”
“Igor” is another one of my most played albums this year (another top pick for morning workouts and downtown walks). The production, lyricism, and performances throughout are some of the best in hip-hop. EARFQUAKE is the most obvious single, but i could have picked any number of songs for this list.
10. Mystery Hour – Pavo Pavo
“I’m designed to be unsatisfied”
This song pushes all of my buttons. Layers and layers of fuzzy clouds of sound. Vocals, like two birds soaring above, weaving a path through the mist. Sadly, shortly after releasing this album, Pavo Pavo split up. I’ll never get to see a live show, but i’m thankful for the two great records they let into this world.
11. Flower Moon (feat. Steve Lacy) – Vampire Weekend
“It was the right place, wrong time. Another night at the borderline.”
My favorite song of my favorite record this year. If I didn’t have a self-imposed rule of only including one song per artist, there would be at least four Vampire Weekend songs on this list. “Father of the Bride” is, in my opinion, the best produced, best arranged, simply the best record of this year. The songs and melodies are catchy, and there’s a depth to the lyricism and the arrangements that makes my love for this record grow with each subsequent listen. On my trip to Colorado this September, I had this record playing on repeat through the mountains, and each time I listened I heard something subtle and new. “Flower Moon” is particularly great. The vocal harmonies, the horns, the percussion, the groove. The MAGIC.
12. Nina – Crumb
“Nothing makes much sense you’ll see.”
Allison turned me on to this moody, subtle, atmospheric record. Another go-to pick for Sunday morning breakfast making soundtracks, and chill evenings painting in my studio.
13. Naeem – Bon Iver
“And I cannot seem to carry this all.”
The high point of another stellar record that got lots and lots of studio/workshop/driving play this year. It took me a couple of listens to connect with these songs and the overall approach to the arrangements and production. Part of me still pines for the Bon Iver of old, the bearded porch-sitting aesthetic I so love. But these songs (Naeem included) retain deep veins of that essence while presenting as something completely different. The lyrics are still revealing and hiding in equal parts, evoking emotional response in fragments—but this time the fragments are elevated by the mastery of creative arrangement and production. The heart and soul of this song is Vernon’s vocal delivery and the delicate connections in sound and words. This song brings tears to my eyes nearly every time I hear it.
14. Come Home (feat. André 3000) – Anderson .Paak
“No one even begs anymore.”
Andre 3000 delivers one of the best performances ever in his guest verse. That alone is enough to put it on the list, but the rest of the song, and Anderson .Paak’s smooth soul delivery throughout makes it a sweet, sweet, song to listen to, and listen to again. One more time?
15. All My Happiness Is Gone – Purple Mountains
“No way to last out here like this for long.”
David Berman dropped this amazing record, then promptly left us. I don’t have the words to write about it, the song is enough.
1. Glen Hansard/Fool’s Game
It’s funny, when I first heard this song all I heard was Jarvis Cocker’s voice, and for a moment I thought it was some uncharacteristically humble Pulp b-side that I’d never before encountered. Upon further listening, I still hear a prosciutto-thin slice of Pulp at the beginning, but the wall of sound at 3:20 is pure early ’90s shoegaze: “Loveless”-era My Bloody Valentine or perhaps, more grindingly, Catherine Wheel. A definite contrast to the delicacy that came before.
And then perhaps a touch of Liz Fraser with those acoustic vox at the end. It’s a bit of a sonic pastiche, to be sure. David Bowie would approve of the subtle sax moments, I feel.
2. Julia Jacklin/Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You
I love the way this starts because it gives me mid-’90s Acetone vibes with those first few seconds of crunchy guitar, but then the vocals kick in and I’m picking up a bit of Emmylou or perhaps even Emmylou as filtered through Klara and Johanna Söderburg. The periodic breaking of her voice also strongly evokes Victoria Bergsman from The Concretes. I heard this in the recent Faye Webster album too, and wonder if the crackly twangy female vox are the next stylistic iteration of “2010s-voice” which was a bit more caterwauly, and much in the hoarse vocal style of the very-dead Kurt Cobain, something very record-label-reproducible to get the emotional/nostalgic dopamine hit from the listening hordes. So I hope crackling twangy female vocals aren’t the next in the retread assembly line because I love this particular vocal styling so so much. This song feels more visceral than the Faye Webster album, by the way. While the atmosphere is established with both (and the pedal steel on Atlanta Millionaires Club is beyond), this particular track seems more immediate, marrying both voice and instrument.
4. Vagabon, Every Woman
I loooove huskier female vox like these because they remind me of listening to Cat Power records for the first time and how late at night driving i-5 Chan Marshall’s voice made me feel less alone as a non-girly girl, especially in an era in which I was surrounded by equally plaintive but far more canonical male voices of the mid/late ’90s indie scene. Elliott, Will, Bill, Jeff, et al: very awesome, but for the ’90s oddball girl, Cat Power connected to a culturally unspoken womblike energy that laces most women together: utterly vulnerable and transcendently powerful. So I think this song is really beautiful and I want to hear more. Aesthetically, I’m definitely getting early Bon Iver pastoral vibes with even the slightest hint of Boards of Canada ‘70s childhood mellotron fluttering just so in the background layers. This and the Travis Scott track are my favorites of your whole mix.
5. Leif Vollebekk/The Way That You Feel
Leif’s voice at times reminds me of Jeff Buckley at his more decrescendo moments. Like I really wonder if Leif patterned his vocal stylings after Jeff, it’s that noticeable to me. I have a harder time getting into the lyrics, because in singer-songwriter style they seem to emanate from his point of view as directed towards an (ex-?) girlfriend. Last year I wrote about my beloved Jane’s Addiction along these lines: what would these songs look like if the woman on the other end (Casey) was singing her side of his (Perry’s) story? The invisible narrative. I do like this song though, his music just makes me wonder about the “her” on the other side.
I get what you’re saying about the singer-songwritery lyrics, and acknowledge that this song is lyrically weak. In retrospect I wish I had chosen “not your lover,” which is full of poetic imagery and more “observational” in it’s take.
6. Ministry – Karen O & Danger Mouse
Agree re the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Initially, this song sounds just like Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” – in particular the Gary Jules cover from the Donnie Darko soundtrack (mixed feelings about this film but it was a brilliant musical inclusion). It quickly evaporates though, and weaves its own path. Good chill vibes. Hard to shake the T4F though!