This is a run-down, mini-review style of my 15 favourite songs of 2019. I’ll be making this list aside from my “Best Albums of 2019” list, therefore this collection will not include any tracks from those albums. If you wish to understand my favourite tracks from those albums then read through that article and they are included at the end of each review.
These 15 tracks I have continually returned to, have had the most replayability in a variety of situations or moods and that stick out in my mind in terms of melody or lyrics. There are an assortment of genres, musical styles and personalities included in this list, indicating that although the top layer of music from 2019 has been mediocre at best, there are always gems to be found. Here they are – IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
SUMMER WALKER – PLAYING GAMES (FEAT. BRYSON TILLER)
As Spotify let me know, this is my most listened to track of 2019. The harmonious melodies of Summer Walker with the addition of the ‘asshole guy’ character portrayed by Bryson Tiller produce a short but sweet duet. The use of the Destiny’s Child sample is tasteful rather than tacky and overall it’s a clear highlight in an album I found unfortunately too sleepy for its own good.
DUCKWRTH – CRUSH
I’m not sure there’s a funkier track on this list than “Crush.” The simple acoustic guitar and recurring descending flutey synth provide a shoulder-shimmying backdrop that ultimately could not fail. As the title implies, the lyrical content is of Duckwrth explaining his crush on someone/something and is sexy enough without being x-rated. All-in-all it’s a cute, short jam that’s very suitable for dancing to.
DABABY – BOP
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Hip-Hop and music in general in 2019, it’s been hard to miss DaBaby’s rise. With his smash “Suge,” he laid out a formula for success with bouncy synth and 808 beats and his signature immediate, to the point and in your face flow. Obviously sometimes it can get tiring hearing the same formula repeated over and over but with “BOP,” and its seemingly arabic-inspired flute, DaBaby keeps pulling off his style well.
KANYE WEST – USE THIS GOSPEL (FEAT. CLIPSE & KENNY G)
While, to many, Kanye’s gospel album stood out for its dumb Chick-Fil-A line, there were actually a couple of truly stand-out tracks on there. “Use This Gospel” begins with a very similar style to “Runaway,” with a repeated piano note for the first half before exploding into before dropping out for the features of No Malice and Kenny G and returning beefed up with 808s for the finale. It is always promising to hear that Kanye can create epic sounding collaborations in what many would call the darkest period of his career.
FKA TWIGS – SAD DAY
Twigs inhabits a beautiful space of trap-opera like no other artist. It’s at the same time powerfully anthemic and understated enough to thankfully not make it to the mainstream. The additional percussive elements on this track provide an industrial tinge that add to the haunting melodies and vocal riffs. Lyrically the track sees twigs dealing with a slow breakup over classical minor chords and I believe would be perfect in a film soundtrack somewhere in the near future.
JAMES BLAKE – BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (FEAT. ROSALÍA)
Probably batting with “sad day” as the most beautiful song of the year, “Barefoot in the Park” sees James Blake take a traditional Irish folk song and push it somehow into a Central-American flavour with the help of the stunning vocals of Rosalía. The song pitches freedom as something to be cherished, regardless of how it may have come about. The harmonies between Blake and Rosalía are spectral in the mix with echoey wood drums bouncing around in the back of the listeners head keeping rhythm.
ARI LENNOX – BMO
This is a complete sex song; there’s no two ways about it. In terms of instrumentation, “BMO” is a sensual, steamy number punctuated by an ascending synth line, an alternating 4-note bass riff and a somewhat plodding clap drum. The vocal layering on the track gives the listener a feeling of Ari’s excellent vocal range and control but also begins to sound like what could be sexual moans at points. It’s a throwback to the sexier, more risque 90s R&B sound with updated 2019 production.
LUCKY DAYE – LATE NIGHT
Speaking of throwbacks, “Late Night” is a conglomeration of styles from music past. There’s funk elements, dancing basslines and falsettos reminiscent of MJ here. It’s in equal parts a sexualised track and something you could take a late-night (no pun intended) drive to along a coastal California highway. The lyrical content is nothing special, and to be honest neither is Lucky Daye’s voice, but when everything comes together it’s a real vibe.
DOMINIC FIKE – PHONE NUMBERS (WITH KENNY BEATS)
This track fits into a similar space in my musical consumption as Duckwrth’s “Crush.” “Phone Numbers” is a funky mix of acoustic and bass guitar riffs with prominent clap drums and some twittering hi-hats along for the ride. Fike’s mixture of rapping and somewhat flat singing voice actually comes out much better alongside the instrumental than one might imagine. It’s just really damn catchy and replayable.
BRYSON TILLER – BLAME
“Blame” no doubt feels like an interlude leading to something bigger, and yet when Bryson provides fans with something that has the signature TRAPSOUL sound, it’s lapped up like cats at a leaking milk factory. His fluttering vocals are on point as always and the instrumental is just heavy enough to keep interest, all while providing a platform for his riffing. The man has a truly unbelievable ear for melody.
SNOH AALEGRA – LOVE LIKE THAT
I am a sucker for a minor chord piano track with soothing vocals. Snoh Aalegra’s voice on this track is nothing short of angelic and heartfelt. The track is a story of a relationship where two people enjoy winding each other up for good and bad reasons. It’s a story of fighting, questioning your sanity and re-engaging. The best R&B/pop songs are those which are truly representative and imaginable to people’s real-life situations and this fits the category snugly.
GALLANT – SHARPEST EDGES
A similarly relatable track comes in the form of Gallant’s “Sharpest Edges.” We have all been stuck on someone romantically that perhaps we knew was going to be no benefit to us and yet, curiousity and lust always win. The benefit of this song in particular is that Gallant can really sing, the track is incredibly catchy and there’s an unexpected funk supplied mostly by the percussion and organ-like synth chords.
ARIN RAY – CHANGE (WITH KEHLANI)
Perhaps the cheesiest, classic R&B love song on the list. “Change” is primarily here for two reasons – the catchiness of the track and the chemistry between Arin Ray and Kehlani. The hook is infectious and although instrumentally it’s very airy and non-descript, the song-writing doesn’t need much to shine. The parts where the duet really comes together such as on the second chorus are beautifully managed so that you can hear both artists clearly while maintaining a harmony.
OFFSET – LICK
Although ostensibly this is another brag track from one third of the Migos about making it in the rap game and getting money from both drugs and music, it includes references to Offset’s personality that have been rarer than bigfoot in his discography. The central riff to the track is catchy and Offset maintains his signature flow but there is a deeper dive into the childhood and racial and societal outlooks for African Americans that we have not seen from Migos and most of their musical offspring before.
GOLDLINK – ZULU SCREAMS (FEAT. MALEEK BERRY & BIBI BOURELLY)
Afrobeat mixed with dancehall, a little house music and some electronica comes together to form a very danceable track. Goldlink brings his typical mellow delivery and yet flows smoothly over the beat but instrumentally is really where this track shines. It’s sunny and summery and provides a valuable insight into how Afrobeat music is being used well in Hip-Hop music in contrast to the common weak pieces pushed by artists such as Drake.