Top 50 Tracks of 2019 (20-11)

20. Sneaks “Cinnamon”

With production provided by Tony Seltzer and Carlos Hernandez, “Cinnamon” is just one example of the many stylistic changeups on Highway Hypnosis that finds Sneaks (Eva Moolchan) moving away from post-punk minimalism and leaning into groove-centric genres like electro, dub, and trap. “Yamaha chang in the ring, yeah, oh my god Lionel Richie’s dead, yeah,” Moolchan deadpans. The song’s chopped and screwed production combined with Sneaks’ eccentric lyrics and dark sense of humor makes “Cinnamon” a standout moment on the Washington, D.C.-based musician’s third release. – Andy Mascola

19. Mdou Moctar “Kamane Tarhanin”

There’s a reason Mdou Moctar has been dubbed the “Hendrix of the Sahara” and the fact that he is a lefty is a mere nod to this nickname. His unconventional and innovative interpretations of traditional Taureg songs have taken western audiences by storm and led to several festival appearances and runs of sold out shows during the bands’ past few years of incessant touring. “Kamane Tarhanin” begins with Moctar reciting a verse in Berber of sparse guitar picking that sounds distinctly West African in its cadence and rhythm. As the last opening lyrics dissolve into the heavily reverbed recorded space the churning drum beats usher in rolling bass lines and Moctar in full speed ahead mode with stunning guitar licks and mesmerizing vocal parts. They really shine live so be sure to catch them during their upcoming coast-to-coast North American Spring 2020 Tour. – Greg Scranton

18. Vampire Weekend “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”

A simple piano, near-subliminal synthesized orchestration, gently pulsing electronics, and the gorgeous vocal harmonizing of Ezra Koenig and Danielle Haim make “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” one of the most memorable moments on Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride. “All I do is lose, but baby, all I want’s to win,” Koenig croons resolutely during the track’s thoughtful, emotive chorus. The beautiful, minimalist ballad that concludes Vampire Weekend’s 2019 album may be the record’s most uncomplicated song production-wise, but lyrically it is by far the most poignant. – Andy Mascola

17. Possible Humans “Lung of the City”

I find it fitting that we’re closing out the decade with a song from a relative unknown Aussie band in the top 20 since during that time there’s been a renewed golden age of indie acts hailing from Down Under. In fact, Alex Macfarlane of Twerps and The Stevens recorded and released the Melbourne five piece debut album on his Hobbies Galore label. With a limited Australian and European release the album was picked up by the globally minded US label, Trouble In Mind out of Chicago, thus providing the album with the wider audience it so deserved. “Lung of the City” is a shining example from a gem of an album and offers all the jangly hooks and feel good transitions that have come to define the sound of this renewed generation of Aussie acts. – Greg Scranton

16. Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall”

The lead single from Vampire Weekend’s fourth album was also the Father of the Bride‘s strongest moment. Sounding somewhere between Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead, the track opens with a Kaki King-esque guitar riff before a cacophony of piano, bongos, and choir harmonies enter. When the Madchester beat hits under Ezra Koenig’s falsetto “ooohs” in the post chorus, its like jumping in a pool and letting the cool water envelop you. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

15. Cate Le Bon “Home To You”

The stunning artistry and singularity that has come to define Cate Le Bon’s music is what has her in my top spot for best songs of 2019. In an era that has seen an increased number of truly remarkable female singer/songwriters dominate the indie folk/rock/baroque genres, Le Bon still manages to stand out among the Aldous Hardings, Sharon Van Ettens, and Angel Olsens of the scene. While female fronted acts like Weyes Blood and Big Thief may garner more of the market, Le Bon offers a slightly more challenging sound. Those familiar with the art rock sound of the 1970’s Canterbury Scene, which saw bands like Henry Cow, Soft Machine, Slapp Happy, and Robert Wyatt rise to prominence, will appreciate the Welsh native’s nod to those who came to define a generation of experimental music in the U.K. – Greg Scranton

14. Lana Del Rey “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it”

If you couldn’t tell by the song title, “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it” is Lana Del Rey at her most ridiculous. It is hard not to laugh the first time you hear her croon, “I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown / 24/7 Sylvia Plath” over the sparse piano-laden instrumental. For every line that makes you happy to be listening to such an emotive and literary songwriter, there are cringe-worthy lines like “hello, it’s the most famous woman you know on the iPad/Calling from beyond the grave, I just wanna say, ‘Hi, Dad.'” But that is Lana Del Rey in a nut shell and what more could we ask for? – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

13. Empath “Hanging Out of Cars”

The smash and crash noise pop of Empath’s “Hanging Out of Cars” is just one of the highlights on the Philadelphia psych-punk band’s excellent 2019 full-length, Active Listening: Night on Earth. The song begins with a somewhat atonal, warbly electric guitar and caveman-like drums contrasted with a gentle synth and singer/guitarist Catherine Elicson earnestly shouting, “Where I take you is, where I take myself, an empty space is the, most I’ve ever felt.” As if being woken from a dream, just before the song’s halfway mark, all the raucousness gets pulled completely back, leaving the sounds of an echoing keyboard and sparse percussion. Before long, the instrumentation disappears even further and all we’re left with are the sounds of near-incomprehensible voices speaking until even they dissolve. “Hanging Out of Cars” is comprised of three distinctly different parts that when placed in succession best demonstrate Empath’s unique stylistic strengths. – Andy Mascola

12. Ex Hex “Rainbow Shiner”

Ex Hex is basically a riff factory at this point but none are as catchy as “Rainbow Shiner.” It is the kind of guitar riff that you might expect to hear in a Boston or Thin Lizzy track. With Betsy Wright taking lead vocals, she sings through gritted teeth about bruise turning all colors of the rainbow as it heals. I wouldn’t want to be whoever or whatever gave her that bruise because with that punk sneer, you know it won’t go unanswered. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

11. Lil Nas X “Old Town Road”

What top 50 countdown would be complete without the biggest, most controversial song of the year? If Billboard hadn’t disallowed the song from charting on Hot Country charts, would it have become as big as it became? Who knows and more importantly, who cares? Nineteen-year-old Lil Nas X created an earworm of a track that seamlessly bridged the gap between hip hop and country in a way that other artists have tried and failed (I’m looking at you Nelly and Tim McGraw). Often irreverent and humorous, the song made America take notice and question genre boundaries, racial stereotypes, and eventually if Billy Ray Cyrus is more popular than his daughter again. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan


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