The 50 Best Songs of 2019

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The 50 Best Songs of 2019

Ranking albums is one thing—there are only so many LPs to choose from. But songs? The options are truly limitless. Who’s to say that these are really the 50 best songs of 2019? Maybe the actual golden herd is hidden in some dark corner of Bandcamp, still unheard by those of us who are often caught up in the frenzy of album cycles and press releases and Spotify recommendations. But as there’s no possible way to hear every single original song created by humans in a year, we’re left with the task of sorting through the ones that did catch our ears. Many of the tunes you’ll find here appear in albums on our companion best of the year list; many do not. And that’s the beauty of singles. Some of these songs will eventually find a home within a forthcoming LP, while many are destined to remain orphans forever. But we love them all the same. In yet another stressful year where we felt constantly strained and controlled by content coming at us from all directions at all times of the day and night, these are the 50 songs that stuck out from the noise, as voted by the Paste staff. May they bring you some peace, comfort, laughter or whatever it is you need going into the next decade.

Listen to our Best Songs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.

50. Vagabon: “Water Me Down”

“Water Me Down” is another percussion-heavy, largely electronic track, in which Vagabon, aka Laetitia Tamko, merges the dense and the airy in service of a song about the weight of other people’s expectations. “Never meant for all of this / Never meant for you to love / Never meant for you to trust,” Tamko intones, pairing her rich vocals with feathery keyboards. “Water Me Down” is about freeing yourself from someone who wants too much and waters you down in the process, and in the new visual Tamko fittingly shows us a totally unforeseen side of herself. “I wanted to flex a muscle I haven’t shared yet,” she says in a statement: “dancing.” —Amanda Gersten

49. William Tyler: “Fail Safe”

The intricately woven, guitar-based instrumental on “Fail Safe” feels like a journey, with an acoustic standing as star of the show. The strings layer, growing through the track’s end and simultaneously giving it a sense of restlessness and excitement, of choosing not to stay stagnant but also embracing the change. Whatever cons moving cross-country to sunny California may have, the impact on William Tyler’s music certainly isn’t one. —Emma Korstanje

48. Hand Habits: “placeholder”

Meg Duffy’s sophomore album, placeholder, is a practice in deconstructing relationships, and Duffy explores their rarely-highlighted intricacies. The former Kevin Morby guitarist is an adept singer/songwriter, and their recent title track might be their greatest work yet. Duffy’s world revolves around their inner circle, and there’s a sense of contemplative compassion even when they sense they’re being used. What begins as a leisurely, melancholy stroll turns into a minefield of shrieking guitars—the perfect depiction of a messy relationship arc and of the needs and desires between two people that don’t always mesh. —Lizzie Manno

47. Stella Donnelly: “Old Man”

On “Old Man,” the album opener off Beware of the Dogs, Stella Donnelly serves up more of her characteristically biting critique with extra helpings of humor and ballsiness. “Oh are you scared of me old man, or are you scared of what I’ll do?,” she sings, almost teasing, but meaning business. Another timely lyric follows: “You grabbed me with an open hand. The world is grabbing back at you.” Donnelly sings sweetly, but the men in her songs—ranging from a mean boss in “Mechanical Bull” to the powerful desk-dwellers in “Old Man”—are anything but. —Ellen Johnson

46. Brittany Howard: “Stay High”

“Stay High” is as gentle and stripped-back as what you imagined Howard’s solo work would sound like. Easy acoustic strumming, warm, unembellished percussion and what truly sounds like a toy piano put Howard’s stunning bluesy vocals at the forefront. There’s no big chorus or blaring, thundering instrumentals à la Sound & Color; “Stay High” is smooth and bright—another easy entry point into the rest of the musician’s solo project. —Savannah Sicurella

45. Better Oblivion Community Center: “Dylan Thomas”

At the beginning of this year, Better Oblivion Community Center was a mysterious bus bench ad and an automated phone number with a recorded message on top of an acoustic guitar riff. But even when it was announced that an act by that name was playing The Late Show on Jan. 23, we still weren’t sure who—or what—it was until Colbert announced, “Tonight, my guests Phoebe Briders and Conor Oberst are here to announce their new band.” Their album was immediately uploaded to streaming services and the rest is history. But shrouded in that initial hype (and VCR static throughout the Colbert performance) was one of the best songs either songwriter had ever written, “Dylan Thomas.” It sounds like a Summerteeth-era Wilco B-side you could’ve sworn you’d heard before. “Dylan Thomas” is four-chord alt-country bliss, complete with a guitar solo and a singalong chorus that was surely screamed back at the super-duo if you were lucky enough to catch them on tour this year. Songs—and albums—like this don’t come around all too often these days, making this one feel all the more special. —Steven Edelstone

44. Sudan Archives: “Confessions”

“‘Confessions,’ a female flip on classic rap music videos—resilient women surviving in a world that seems to be falling apart & ends with its alter ego Black Vivaldi, an ode to duality,” explains Sudan Archives, aka Brittney Parks. “It’s about being the seduced and the seductress, it’s about God & the Devil, Yin & Yang, & about the possibility that we might have it all wrong about the two.” The duality Sudan Archives refers to is well-represented in “Confessions” itself: Parks’ violin is downtempo to the point of being mournful in the song’s opening moments, but as soon as the thumping beat kicks in, her playing transforms, staccato and upbeat. “I fell down / and started / back up then seal the feeling / I’m too unique to kneel,” Parks sings, confessing to her troubles and her triumphs in the same breath—“Confessions” is nothing if not a triumph, with Sudan Archives weaving together strings and synths to serve as her platform from which to demand, “Watch me frolic through the fields, bitch.” —Scott Russell

43. Hatchie: “Stay With Me”

The lead track from Hatchie’s record Keepsake, “Without A Blush,” saw the usually effervescent dream-pop artist cross over into slightly darker territory. On “Stay With Me,” though, Hatchie dives head-first into melancholy dance-pop, sounding like a slightly more despondent Robyn as she laments, “I’ve come undone.” The music video, directed by Joe Agius, even feels like it could easily be slotted into the one for Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” as Hatchie dances under neon lights among strangers at a club. The yearning chorus of “Stay With Me,” punctuated with ethereal stabs of ’90s synth, is delicious in its desperation and incredibly catchy. —Clare Martin

42. Thom Yorke: “Dawn Chorus”

Thom Yorke’s biggest fault—if there is one—on ANIMA, his first proper solo album since 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is his inclusion of “Dawn Chorus,” a song so devastatingly gorgeous it threatens to overshadow the eight other tracks’ ingenious advances in glitchy electronica. “Dawn Chorus” is so mind-numbingly beautiful it doesn’t just distract from the rest of the album—it places the listener in a different world entirely, one seemingly hundreds of miles away from the late-night dancefloor occupied by tracks like “Not the News” and “Traffic.” —Steven Edelstone

41. Empath: “Hanging Out of Cars”

Philadelphia noise-pop outfit Empath are the type of band you need to listen to with headphones and closed eyes. Their violent dreaminess and lyrics that make the most sense when your emotions are heightened create a subliminal connection that’s much easier to feel than articulate. After releasing their 2018 cassette Liberating Guilt and Fear, the quartet dropped their debut album After Listening: Night on Earth earlier this year on Get Better Records before its eventual Fat Possum reissue. Their avant-garde pop may appear too abstract or complex at first, especially with their unusual line breaks, but their lyrics are often filled with powerful, evocative mantras from commonplace language (“I know it won’t be long,” “An empty space is the most I’ve ever felt”). On “Hanging Out of Cars,” singer/guitarist Catherine Elicson transforms familiar imagery (“Water beating onto your face,” “Hanging out of cars on the freeway”) into explosions of the senses. —Lizzie Manno

40. Orville Peck: “Dead of Night”

Who could have guessed that 2019 needed “Dead of Night,” a song from a masked, pseudonymous, queer Canadian cowboy combining all the best elements of Roy Orbison, ’50s teenage-delinquent movies and trebly, quavering guitar? Orville Peck, that’s who guessed. Naturally, stepping up with such an intriguing persona has prompted speculation about who is behind that fringed mask, but let’s be honest: that’s a minor detail compared to the song. “Dead of Night” opens Pony, Peck’s debut LP. It’s majestic and moody, stitching fragmentary images into a gripping story about a romance as impetuous as it is doomed. Peck delivers the verses with measured, stately intonation soaked in reverb and backed by shudders of guitar, then sends his voice skyward on the chorus into a ringing falsetto that’s startlingly confident. It’s kind of country, more than a little noirish and fully exhilarating. —Eric R. Danton

39. Bon Iver: “Hey, Ma”

Music is one of our few avenues for time travel, and few do it better than Bon Iver. Justin Vernon’s output has been utterly transporting since the beginning, from 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago to his newest effort, i,i. “Hey, Ma,” one of its lead singles, is no exception. World-weary and hopeful, cynical and naive, it slides between past and present with impressionistic allusions to childhood bath-time and digs at greedy coal executives—all in a shimmer of electronics that merges the muted melancholy of his earliest work, the lushness of Bon Iver and the intricacies of 22, A Million. “Hey, Ma” is rife with the stream-of-consciousness imagery, just slightly unfamiliar phrasing (“Tall time to call your ma”) and sticks-in-your-mind diction—just try to get the way he sings the word “sugar” out of your head—that make Bon Iver so entrancing. At its core, it’s a reminder to hold on to what’s most important: family, the natural world. The “light” of love is always there inside of us, if only we pay attention. —Amanda Gersten

38. Kim Gordon: “Air BnB”

It’s not clear whether Kim Gordon is offering a place for rent on “Air BnB,” or staying in one, but the amenities sound nice: flat-screen TV, a daybed, bottled water, Andy Warhol prints on the wall. Oh, there’s just one thing: it also includes a bundle of bristling guitars that grind and judder like someone dropped a big handful of deck screws into the garbage disposal, while your host (or renter, maybe) snarls, “Air BnB / Gonna set me free.” The song is a centerpiece on Gordon’s first-ever solo album, No Home Record, and the Sonic Youth co-founder sounds as fierce and enigmatic as she ever has. Word of advice for this particular Air BnB: check the cancellation policy up front. —Eric R. Danton

37. Tierra Whack: “Unemployed”

Tierra Whack’s versatility is on full display in “Unemployed.” Compared with some of the campier tracks off 2018’s mile-a-minute, genre-straddling Whack World, “Unemployed” hits hard, references to Grover and ABC primetime included. For anyone who doubted Whack’s ability to rap, she brushes them off on “Unemployed,” swaggering her way through witty and rapid-fire rhymes that prove she can outpace the pack. Riffing off the song’s themes of hard work, Whack personifies the album cover’s couch potato in the terrifying, surrealist music video for the track—if its earworm hook doesn’t haunt you, she’ll make sure you’ll never look at french fries the same way again. —Katie Cameron

36. black midi: “953”

“953” features one of the hardest hitting lead guitar riffs in recent memory, an opening salvo that makes you want to drop everything and go run a mile—something I actually did, resulting in my fastest time ever. Within mere seconds of hitting play on their debut album, Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin of black midi make their case as two of our most inventive contemporary guitarists, all while you try your hardest to keep time with a beat that will still elude you after 10 listens. —Steven Edelstone

35. DaBaby: “INTRO”

Good lord, does DaBaby even come up for air? The Charlotte rapper bursts onto “INTRO,” the opening track from the high-octane KIRK, from 0:01. DaBaby packs in mouthfuls of lyrics, practically interrupting himself, and he’s so relentless in his flow that when he makes space for any kind of break, the impact of the quiet resonates to moving effect. And it’d be one thing if he were rapping sheer bravado, but “INTRO” shows a fresh facet of DaBaby as he mulls over reconciling his new superstardom with the sudden death of his father, musings set to a soft-spoken, almost mournful, gospel choir. It’s a welcome change of pace, and DaBaby wears it well. —Katie Cameron

34. Jessica Pratt: “This Time Around”

“This Time Around” feels like an anchor, even though Quiet Signs itself definitely feels more out-at-sea than harbored. It’s the most simple song on the album instrumentally, but Jessica Pratt sings the line “too hard, too hard” like a series of “oohs” and “ahhs” that add some beautiful complexity to the space-out. “Hallowed be thy name, had you come to claim it?” she sings, sounding like a witchier Joni Mitchell. —Ellen Johnson

33. Cate Le Bon: “Daylight Matters”

“Daylight Matters” suggests infinite possibilities. As Welsh auteur Cate Le Bon tones down her longtime jagged art-pop theatrics, she heralds a new dawn, with deep saxophones and jovial half-note pianos emphasizing her sparkling guitar lines and bellowed intonations. The song, a highlight of her fifth album Reward, is among the prettiest in her catalog, but it’s also one of her most explicitly heartbroken tunes to date. The couplet “I love you but you’re not here / I love you but you’ve gone” is as clear a breakup indicator as they come (especially for Le Bon, known for her vague and surreal lyrics), even though this gorgeous ditty isn’t stormy in the least. This contrast dominates Reward, and with every “Come on” Le Bon coos during the serene bridge of “Daylight Matters,” she invites listeners to join her on the album’s seemingly limitless journey. It’s impossible not to say yes. —Max Freedman

32. Denzel Curry: “RICKY”

Denzel Curry’s “RICKY” joins Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” as one of two incredible origin stories on this list. The song is named after Curry’s father and features a direct quote from the old man himself: “My daddy said, ‘Trust no man but your brothers / And never leave your day ones in the gutter,’” Curry raps over a wonky yet perfectly timed beat. “RICKY” sits at the top of the South Florida’s rapper’s catalogue, a catchy case for the rap song of the year. It’s personal without getting too sentimental, a refreshing track from a year when rap very often felt impersonal. Curry’s big-bodied rhythms have left their mark on a class of budding Floridian rappers, and this song, from Curry’s excellent ZUU, proves the master is here to stay. —Ellen Johnson

31. Nilüfer Yanya: “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”

British singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya skillfully married the gritty and soulful on her 2019 debut album Miss Universe. Standout single “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” captures this paradox along with common twentysomething pitfalls—emotionally unavailable partners, dreams spilling into daytime due to a lack of sleep and coping mechanisms that may have overstayed their welcome. Between bare guitar stabs and gurgling keyboards, Yanya is simultaneously exhausted and empowered by her self-imposed limits, and her fluctuating vocals dance around the turmoil. —Lizzie Manno

30. Priests: “Jesus’ Son”

The first whisper of satire on The Seduction of Kansas takes shape in the provocative opener “Jesus’ Son.” A nod to The Velvet Underground, the track is as memorable a rock song you’ll hear in 2019. Though the band disclosed in a press release it is “an apocalyptic sci-fi tale of epic proportions,” it’s also a heated takedown of male entitlement. “Jesus’ Son” imagines the apocalypse not as the Second Coming—Christ descending unto Earth, bathed in heavenly light—but as some kind of warped dystopia where the Messiah appears as an entitled scumbag, no better than a pouty Brett Kavanaugh demanding he be throned on the highest court in the land. Vocalist Katie Alice Greer convincingly plays the part of the “young,” “dumb” antichrist wreaking havoc on a crumbling society. ”I am Jesus’ son,” she sings (or more like warbles). “I think I wanna hurt someone / I’m young and dumb and full of cum.” —Ellen Johnson

29. HAIM: “Summer Girl”

“I wanted to be this light that shined on him when he was feeling very dark. I wanted to be his hope when he was feeling hopeless,” Danielle Haim wrote on Twitter the day before her band’s single “Summer Girl” dropped on the last day of July. “[S]o I kept singing these lines – I’m your sunny girl/ I’m your fuzzy girl/ I’m your summer girl,” she added, detailing the period a year or two earlier when her partner, famed producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sky Ferreira), was diagnosed with cancer. Now that he’s in remission, the Rechtshaid and Rostam-produced single is a bona fide song-of-the-summer classic, a modern update on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” complete with “doo doos” and a stunning saxophone solo. Accompanied by a clothes-off romp around Los Angeles directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Summer Girl” is catchy as hell, the sort of song that you won’t complain about when it gets stuck in your head for days at a time. Immediately one of HAIM’s best songs to date, the single—along with the two songs released since, “Now I’m In it” and “Hallelujah”—have our mouths watering for the sister group’s likely-forthcoming record, hopefully out in the new year. —Steven Edelstone

28. Lucy Dacus: “Fool’s Gold”

“Fool’s Gold” is Lucy Dacus’ ode to the New Year and a high point of her 2019 mini-album. After a little glimmering piano, she comes in on warm, thrumming guitar, slowly peeling back the gilded layer covering up one of the most hollow holidays. No matter what year it is at the stroke of midnight, “He’ll blame the alcohol / And you’ll blame the full moon,” she reminds us, before declaring, “You say that it’s all the same, all glittering fool’s gold.” —Clare Martin

27. Solange: “Stay Flo”

If Solange’s 2016 masterpiece A Seat at the Table was elegant and restrained in its explicit ruminations on black women’s lives, then follow-up When I Get Home is mostly the opposite: Trunk-rattling and deeply rooted in hip-hop bombast (though just as indebted to jazz) while more abstractly portraying Solange’s Houston upbringing. The pretty but thumping “Stay Flo” ranks as a prime example: The slightly screwed “Hold up!” that introduces the track reappears regularly and distantly, morphing into different ad-libs as Solange rattles off short lines about Houston life while keys prattle gently and drum machines strike gruffly. In her Houston, the average day comprises men getting faded, taking shots, playing games, throwing stones, and getting in their feelings, all while girls get down. Is it a specific picture? Not in the least, but the song’s warbled heft fills in the gaps. —Max Freedman

26. Kevin Morby: “No Halo”

This schmalzy psalm from Kevin Morby’s non-religious religious album Oh My God is as mysterious as the out-of-reach consecrated communion wafers and as fantastical as the Creation myth itself. The lyrics read more like a morse code rendering than a decipherable parable, but there’s a semblance of childhood nostalgia as Morby sings, “When I was a boy / no rooftop on my joy.” Maybe there’s a ceiling on Morby’s optimism now, but there’s still the hope of that youthful wonder. The song itself is miraculous to behold, tingling with claps and organ. You could take this tune’s meaning in any direction, but no matter where it leads you, it’s a clear stroke of Morby’s ever-sprawling genius. —Ellen Johnson

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