“Not” by Big Thief (from Two Hands) – Urgent, dramatic and fuzzy, driven by an odd guitar solo and Adrienne Lenker’s unique voice
“Western” by black midi (from Schlagenheim) – Starts slowly and moodily, then explodes – a math rock song for progheads
“Down On Me” by Sudan Archive (from Athena) – Saddest and sexiest song I heard all year
“Drunk II” by Mannequin Pussy (from Patience) – Incredibly raw and honest lyrics (sample: “And do you remember the nights I called you up? I was so fucked up I forgot we were broken up. I still love you, you stupid fuck”) and a driving thrashing tune
“Undress” by The Felice Brothers (from Undress) – A quirky little bit of folk-rock with a jaunty tune and rather tongue-in-cheek lyrics
“Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” by James Blake (from Assume Form) – One of the most beautiful tracks I heard in 2019 thanks to the wonderfully harmonized and treated vocals
“Sicilian Crest” by The Mountain Goats (from In League With Dragons) – Quite an upbeat song considering the dark, doomsday lyrics with the hope for a savior who may not be what people really want or expect
“Remember to Breathe” by Sturgill Simpson (from SOUND AND FURY) – I could have picked any one of a half a dozen songs from this album. I went with this one because it captures an underlying sense of menace and detachment, and because the bass line is f’ing awesome!
“Light On” by Maggie Rogers (from Heard It in a Past Life) – Too bad her performance on this on SNL was a tad off-key: it’s an awesome song with a terrific chorus with its great backing vocals.
“You Need to Calm Down” by Taylor Swift (from Lover) – In which Swift takes aim at internet trolls with effective and catchy results
“Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo (from Cuz I Love You) – Yowza! The first time I listened to this, I practically came out of my chair when she unleashed the first lines.
“God Bless America” by J.S. Ondara (from Tales of America) – An exquisitely sad and aching song from an immigrant about immigration in America
“Rolling Rolling Rolling” by Daniel Norgren (from Wooh Dang) – Norgren is Swedish but sounds like he was raised in the American South.
“This Land” by Gary Clark, Jr. (from This Land) – The best protest song of 2019, if not of the entire decade
“I’m a Stranger Now” by The Tallest Man on Earth (from I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.) – A typically beautifully constructed upbeat acoustic number
“The Last Note 最後的音符” by Gong Gong Gong 工工工 (from Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏) – I can’t even describe this song. It’s Chinese garage rock with a strong feeling of northern African music.
“Get Yourself Together” by The Black Keys (from Let’s Rock) – The kings of guitar rock kick one out
“Hologram” by Tacocat (from This Place Is a Mess) – Super fun punky pop
“bad guy” by Billie Eilish (from WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?) – Ubiquitous for a reason, I especially love the way the song suddenly slows down at the end
“The River” by Aurora (from A Different Kind of Human (Step II)) – Ethereal, uplifting and beautiful
“Norman fucking Rockwell” by Lana Del Rey (from Norman Fucking Rockwell!) – A torch song that owes more than a little to Joni Mitchell and the whole Laurel Canyon scene
“In Your Head” by Nilüfer Yanya (from Miss Universe) – A highlight on an album full of highlights with a great opening guitar riff and kicking drums
“Can’t Help the Way I Feel” by Lily and Madeleine (from Canterbury Girls) – Great harmonies and a call back to the heyday of ’60s girl groups
“Fried” by Yak (from Pursuit of Momentary Happiness) – A dirty, murky rock ‘n’ roll song
“Castles” by Freya Ridings (from Freya Ridings) – Ridings’ debut is full of songs like this, orchestral pop with a Florence + the Machine feel.