Playlist: 60 Highlight Tracks of 2019

best songs of 2019

Admittedly, I a large fan of albums – especially large, cohesive ones. But the modern music landscape is in a constant flux. The rise of streaming has resulted in a rising popularity in singles; other artists have opted for EPs as a way to release music more regularly and offset some of the recording cost. Ultimately, it’s a semi-hedonistic influence centered around instant gratification to some extent. In other respects, it’s a competitive pressure that pushes artists to be more strategic about their work from multiple angles rather than allow them to feel entitled to a listener base.

In the true spirit of this trend, I’ve created a playlist of 60 songs I feel encapsulate the best of 2019. You can listen to it right here. The songs are in no particular order and span a variety of genres – as such, putting it on shuffle is advised.

Even so, it’s worth taking a look at what makes each of the tracks so special. So, again in no particular order, here’s a breakdown of the best songs of 2019.

  1. Anhedonia – Overslept

Overslept first sold me with their debut, I’ve Been Keeping to Myself. They’re certainly no victims to sophomore slump, releasing one of the highlight albums of the last few years. “Anhedonia” is perfect blend of technical indie rock and pop appeal, full of moments that are bound to get caught in your head.

2. Mother & Father Dearest – Former Wrestlers

Former Wrestlers is, in essence, a solo project – but you’d never tell just by listening. “Mother & Father Dearest” is a full, pop-punkish track with a strong groove, massive chorus, and plenty of other nuances. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it one incredibly fun song to sing along to.

3. Black Moon – Instant Empire

Instant Empire is the kind of band that revels in nostalgia. “Black Moon” is a hazy, new wave-driven electropop track that is comfortably vulnerable and longingly-retrospective.

4. Loser Baby – La Bouquet

It’s a sure mystery how an acoustic guitar line full of harmonics would serve as the backbone to a synthpop track, but such is the case for “Loser Baby”. It’s a catchy track with an unconventional level of technicality that makes it truly stand out.

5. Companion – Tie Goes to the Runner

I’m a sucker for cinematic songs with dense layers, and Tie Goes to the Runner hits all the right notes with “Companion”. It’s sort of what you’d expect if Jimmy Eat World had continued with the sound of their earlier albums – somewhat emo indie rock that packs a punch.

6. Price – password:password

“Price” caught my attention with its lyrics about the cost of living, but it’s also a solid work as a whole. It’s a synth-laden track with ethereal vocals and plenty of dynamics. password:password should definitely be on your radar if you enjoy energetic electronic indie with female vocals.

7. Make Us Famous – Ernest

“Show me that check, let’s get rich.” Mark Daly of Madaila has emerged with the payday anthem of the year. Enough said.

8. Space by Your Side – Stolen Jars

I wasn’t a huge fan of Stolen Jars’ latest album as a whole, but “Space by Your Side” definitely shows the best of what the band has to offer. It’s a percussive track with tight drumming and layered vocals. It has a lot of the energy the band is known for, paired with some powerful lyrics as well.

9. Spark, Set Fire – The Western Den

I discovered The Western Den via Audiotree and this was the first track that caught my attention. It’s a relaxed, folk/singer-songwriter track but it’s still enchanting in its own right. It’s proof that sometimes less truly is more.

10. The Comedown – Bravely

Bravely is a side-project of Matthew Smith of Hodera, and his songwriting follows a similar vein on “The Comedown”. It may be a bit subdued in some respects compared to Hodera, but the emotional core, lyrical focus, and tight instrumentation is remains intact.

11. Demons – MOIRA

MOIRA has returned from several quiet years with a pair of new tracks. “Demons” is cinematic and haunting. Even though the drums are fairly sparse, layered synth and guitar manage to provide a huge wave of aggression on their own. Ultimately, it’s an experimental track that reminds me a bit of something you might find from Polyenso.

12. Just Sign the Papers – Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties

It turns out that songs about divorce can be upbeat and catchy. The brass section on the chorus is impeccable, the tempo is fast, the energy is high. It’s one of the more mainstream releases that managed to leave a lasting impact with me.

13. Rewire – Holden Laurence

Holden Laurence is an enigmatic figure that I’ve admittedly never followed all-too-closely. Nonetheless, his songs always seem to come my way eventually. “Rewire” is a natural evolution from his first album – Laurence’s baritone voice paired with retro-styled instrumentation is a formula that continues to just work.

14. Stann Creek – Street Names

The local Wisconsin emo scene has grown over the past few years, and Street Names is a welcome addition to the expanding roster. With their latest EP, they find themselves alongside bands like Stalgic and Bottom of the Lake with a strong mix of alt-rock catchiness and some of the edge of post-hardcore.

15. Reap What You Sow – Better Off

Better Off is a recent discovery, but “Reap What You Sow” is the kind of track that leaves an immediate impact. It’s undeniably modern, but it seems to borrow from early 00s mainstream rock. It’s packed with energy and strong vocal hooks.

16. Moon – The Y Axes

The Y Axes is certainly an interesting band, tending to dabble with sci-fi-themed songs and Doctor Who references. “Moon” is a synth-immersed rock track with immaculate production that serves as a perfect entry point to the band’s discography.

17. No Age – Rich People

Rich People has always been a band known for explosive songs. They’ve taken things up a notch with “No Age”, a noticeably poppier track than their previous track. That’s definitely not to a fault as it quickly made its way to one of my most-played tracks of the year.

18. Ruby – Origami Angel

There are only so many songs based off Pokémon games. This one just happens to be pretty mathy. “Ruby” is under 90 seconds, but it manages to cover a ton of ground all the same.

19. Resistance – Old Sea Brigade

Old Sea Brigade released one of the earliest albums of the year that stuck with me. While it’s a mixed bag, “Resistance” stood out as an immediate favorite. There’s a bit of Caribbean flavor in some of the synths and even the reverb on the drums is compelling. It’s not an easy track to label, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

20. Safety – Birthday Wish

Birthday Wish has a unique blend of post-punk nostalgia paired with plenty of modern influence. “Safety” is a standout track from their latest EP, but this is certainly a band that deserves a bit of a deeper dive.

21. Quiet Light – The National

While The National is probably an outlier to most bands on this list compared to popularity, I Am Easy to Find is a stand-out album with its immense orchestration and guest appearances. “Quiet Light” thrives off its tight drumming paired with somewhat-minimalist vibe. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that never feels too abrasive.

22. It Hurts – Graveyard Club

Graveyard Club really nailed this track – it’s fast, hazy, and catchy. It’s one of the best songs the group has penned to date.

23. Black Light – My Epic

My Epic have changed course a bit on Violence, but it’s a direction many fans have been longing for. “Black Light” sees the group return to the sound of their earlier releases, and it roars with post-hardcore tenacity.

24. Try Hard – Kevin Schlereth

Kevin Schlereth and Jay Costlow have arguably topped their previous work on this single track. “Try Hard” starts strong and never loses steam, adding more layers as it goes on. Tight drumming, vocal layers, and some other production nuances give this song a lot to love.

25. Mattress on the Floor – Have Mercy

Have Mercy is another signed band that made my list. “Mattress on the Floor” has a strong instrumental hook that carries the song. Pair that with some subtle lyrical motifs and strong drumming and you’ll find a sentimental, groovy track.

26. Thirteen O’Clock – Pleasures of the Flesh

Pleasures of the Flesh is a band that is very hard to place. They borrow elements from hardcore and post-punk and mesh them together for songs that sound somewhat like what you might expect from Fugazi if they decided to use a copious amount of chorus. No matter what you call it, it’s a unique sound that doesn’t seem to have a lot of company.

27. John Hughes Movie Soundtrack -EXNATIONS

Picking a single EXNATIONS song to feature isn’t easy, but “John Hughes Movie Soundtrack” is a stand-out song with excellent drumming, catchy guitar hooks, glossy synths, and powerful narrative lyrics.

28. Whatever Makes You Mine – John Van Duesen

Sometimes, a track is needlessly-catchy and that’s all that matters. “Whatever Makes You Mine” has an incredible chorus and that alone cements it as a great song.

29. Time Well Spent – Silver & Gold

Silver & Gold have kept a decent pace for releasing new music, and each release has plenty to love. “Time Well Spent” showcases the band’s growth as they continue to perfect their songwriting.

30. Congratulations Honey – Matthew Milia

Frontier Ruckus cemented themselves as my most-listened band this past year. Frontman Matthew Milia is a master wordsmith, and his solo work carries this same linguistic reverence.

31. The Pushover – Idiot Pilot

I wasn’t too familiar with Idiot Pilot in their first run, but their unexpected return wasn’t a shabby time to acquaint myself. “The Pushover” is an alt-rock track that is obfuscated by synths and vocal effects. The result is a track that feels largely like a studio collaboration rather than a band – but it’s certainly no stereotypical blend of electronic rock.

32. Queen of the Rodeo – Orville Peck

Orville Peck’s unique costume ended up being a powerful marketing tool. I was curious to find out who this masked figure was, and I was greeted with Elvis-esque vocals paired with a unique remix on the country genre.

33. Shadow Matter – Will Johnson

Will Johnson is no rookie, and his songwriting is proof. There’s a humble maturity to his music, the kind that seems to say, “I know what I’m doing but I don’t need to prove it to anyone.” “Shadow Matter” is a timeless song that feels expansive and rural – the sort of song that would be perfect for a road trip.

34. The Body – Fallow Land

On “The Body”, Fallow Land provides listeners with a TTNG-esque romp through mathy indie rock. If there were a sleeper hit album for 2019, it’d be their debut, Slow Down, Rockstar.

35. Baby Teeth – Glass Age

Abandon Kansas’ rebrand to Glass Age is accompanied by three captivating tracks. “Baby Teeth” is my favorite of the three, pairing a certain ambient luster with introspective lyrics. Ultimately, in my opinion, the rebrand is a huge success.

36. Potassitorium – Ghost Soul Trio

Ghost Soul Trio is, well, a trio act but unlike their name suggests, their music and members are both full of life. “Potassitorium” is a cocktail of funk, indie, jazz, and experimental electronic – or, party music for intellectuals. Add in the band’s quirky music videos and it’s obvious Ghost Soul Trio is one act that isn’t afraid to take risks.

37. Soft Spot – Tiny Moving Parts

While Tiny Moving Parts’ latest album seems like a seamless continuation of 2018’s Swell, there’s nothing wrong with that. “Soft Spot” may not be the band’s most technical track, but there’s something about the opening guitar line rhythm that’s infectious.

38. Better – Caracara

There’s a lot to say about Caracara. I knew “Better” was a hit when I first heard it, but it took me a bit to give the rest of the band’s discography proper attention. Needless to say, it’s all good but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better track in their catalog. The lyrics are poetic, the instrumentation somewhat minimalist in nature. Of course, Caracara understands dynamically intimately and the end is explosive in all the best ways.

39. Windsor Knots and Ruffles – Say Hi

Say Hi has been making music for a very long time, and each album has a distinct flavor. The upcoming album, due February, has a bigger focused on synthesizers. This track does rely on a bed of synths, but they largely sound organic – like a piano or strings. Add in retrospective lyrics and the result is a track that feels kind of like a ballad.

40. Better – Vinnie Caruana

Yes, there are two great songs this year named “Better”. Vinnie Caruana’s take on the title is stripped-down punk. What the track lacks in complexity, it makes up for in pure passion. It’s a heartfelt track that gets by with little more than a four-chord guitar part and some drums. However, the vocals and lyrics are the true heroes here and make this track one of the best of the year.

41. Test Everything, Hold Onto What’s Good – Broken Field Runner

This track is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s an album closer so it’s fitting. At over eight minutes long, it’s interesting to see how well Broken Field Runner is able to maintain momentum as a single lyrical segment is repeated for much of the track.

42. The Distance – Fever Dolls

“The Distance” isn’t exactly a new track – it had previously been released under the Iron Eyes Cody moniker – but this rendition is all grown up and there are lots of extra layers this time around that give it plenty of extra energy. This should definitely be considered the canon version of the track.

43. Gemini – Nova Charisma

Nova Charisma sounds and looks like the culmination of At The Drive In and Coheed and Cambria. “Gemini” is your standard progressive post-hardcore juggernaut track with a careful blend of soaring choruses and technical song structures.

44. Geneva – Lakes

There’s not enough glockenspiel-based rock in the world, but Lakes is doing their part to fix this.

45. Collecting Teeth (Acoustic) – Wolves & Machines

It has been far too long since Wolves & Machines put out new music, and this acoustic track is certainly a welcome teaser for their new album. Even in its barest form, it still holds its own and it’ll be interesting to hear the full version down the road.

46. A Social Renaissance – Cloud Caverns

Brandon Peterson is one very busy guy, having released two albums in 2016 and one in 2018. Now, he has begun to release a string of singles and “A Social Renaissance” is certainly Cloud Caverns at its best. This is partially the doing of AJ Estrada of Hotel of the Laughing Tree lending some additional talents on the track. Now we just need a proper Hotel album and we can call it a day.

47. On the Left – Beket

I’m convinced there’s one, and only one, good post-hardcore album a year. That award happens to go to Beket this time around.

48. Fall (Despite What You Do) – The Wilderness

“Fall” is a radio-friendly track that still manages to have a bit of grit to it. The track’s somewhat-standard indiepop veneer starts to collapse toward the end, as lyrics are belted and saxophones blare. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a single and it’s marketed as such, but there’s more here than meets the eye.

49. Luxton – Nonfiction

“Luxton” thrives off the interplay between its straight-forward verses and gang-chant chorus. It’s not a revolutionary track, but it manages to pull off the emo formula pretty well for an enjoyable listening experience.

50. How Did We End Up Here? – StateBirds

StateBirds is a band I’ve been following for several years now, and it’s exciting to see some new music from them. On this song, there’s a bit of a lounge vibe – chill, jazzy type chords and a beautiful clean guitar tone. This bluesy version of StateBirds should be a welcome addition to many playlists.

51. Being Human is Weird – OWEL

OWEL describes bar romance over a mix atmospheric indie rock instrumentals on “Being Human is Weird”. It’s a track that acknowledges the emptiness in modern hedonism and pairs these themes with cinematic guitar and string parts to really solidify the emotion footprint of the song.

52. Star-Faced – Wildermiss

“Star-Faced” is a fun track that blends groovy guitar, “hey, hey” vocal chants, and major-key melodies for a track that’s danceable and fun.

53. Clandestine Magic – Madaila

Madaila called it quits a while back, but they’re temporarily resurfaced with two tracks. As usual, their indomitable retro-styled funky indie sound is at play, complete with plenty of falsetto.

54. Broken Magic – Wildlife

“Broken Magic” is a booming arena-rock style track that thrives off negative space. The verses are somewhat sparse, but the whole band is at their best during the chorus – this ultimately makes it a very dynamic track that serves as proof of Wildlife’s strategic compositions.

55. Maybe – Andrés

It’s a shame this track is so far down this list. Andrés has become somewhat of a household name in the post-hardcore scene over the past few years, even though his exact genre is hard to define. On “Maybe”, there’s a strong Latin piano groove, but there are some technical guitar parts and even a bit of a breakdown at the end. Whatever you call it, it’s very, very good.

56. Job Interview – Trash Boy

Spoiler alert: lyrics explain the real reason people want jobs.

57. Vanitas Waltz – Yes We Mystic

I wrote about Ten Seated Figures earlier in the year, but if I had to pick one track to feature, it would be “Vanitas Waltz”. It’s hard to say exact why. Maybe it’s the triumphant sound that thrives off melodic motifs. Maybe it’s the string arrangements. Maybe it’s the chorus where the lines are echoed back. Whatever the case, it’s a song that has that special something that makes it stand out.

58. Fame – The Early November

Many bands seem to worsen as their careers exceed three or four albums. Thankfully, The Early November is still putting out solid songs and “Fame” is a great example of a catchy, melodic indie track. Add in some trumpet, a little falsetto, and some layered background vocals and you’ve got a well-produced, fun track.

59. Louise – Del Barber

“Louise” may be the closest thing to traditional country on this list, but don’t let that deter you. Del Barber’s style is far more classic than what you’d find on modern country radio, and it’s a nice return to storytelling elements country was once known for.

60. In Finem – Sherwood Forest

“In Finem” is an ethereal, synthy track that feels straight out of a Tron scene. The first half of the track feels a bit gothic with its arpeggios and deep vocals, but the latter half is more guitar-driven, conjuring images of power metal bands. Ultimately, the band’s imagery isn’t anything out of the ordinary but their music definitely feels otherworldly.

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