Why are we encouraged to state what ‘The Best [CULTURAL CONTENT] of the Year So Far’ is at the start of June? It isn’t half way through the year. It’s just over five months in. The Guardian stated what were the ‘Best albums of 2019 so far‘ on June 4th! That’s only 154 days into the year!! That’s only 42.19% of the way through!!! Unless I’ve forgotten how to work out percentages!!!! Which is very possible!!!!! Wow, I’m using a lot exclamation marks in this paragraph!!!!!!
Well, anyway, I want in. I want a mouldy old piece of that rotten SEO pie, though released far closer to the actual year’s mid point of July 2nd. I’m not going to list the best albums of 2019 though, because I already often struggle to think of things to write come December, and I don’t want to waste that awesome simile I’ve devised to explain my thoughts on the new Jonas Brothers album six months early. Be patient. It’ll blow your mind. So I’ve decided to list the best songs of the year so far, similar to what I did in 2016. Although this time I didn’t just want to add my feeble, narcissistic voice to the chorus of intellectual critics praising songs like Old Town Road or Sweet but Psycho. You already know these songs are great, yeah? So I’ve tried to shine light on amazing songs by amazing artists off (mostly) amazing albums that there’s a chance you might not have previously heard. Get investigating, yeah? They’re in pretty much the order I remember to list them, because, seriously, fuck lists.
(If you can’t bother reading, there’s a handy Spotify playlist for the illiterates)
Yeah, I know, a freaking bluegrass record. At least, I think it’d be classed as bluegrass (blueclassed). I’m really not sure. All I know is that much of it wouldn’t sound ridiculous were it on the ‘O Brother, Where art Thou?’ soundtrack, which I’d reason was the only measuring stick many of us have.
Yet the opening track off the incredible ‘Songs of Our Native Daughters‘ album is beating, pulsing proof of how you should never claim music will be shite based on the genre it’s been assigned and/or whether or not you assume the people who listen to it do so while swinging on a chair in their front porch, chewing on the toenail of a beaver that they’d recently clubbed to death for breakfast, all while shouting out curious racial slurs that haven’t been in wide use since the late 1800s. Yes, Black Myself might be played on the exact same instruments as the Country Bear Jamboree, but it’s a vicious and impassioned four minutes of righteous fury. The lyrics devilishly call into question whether they’re describing the life of a black person around a time more suited to the music, or in the present day (“I wanna jump the fence and wash my face in the creek/But I’m black myself/I wanna sweep that gal right off her feet/But I’m black myself Tired of walkin’ ’round with no shoes on/But I’m black myself/Your precious God ain’t gonna bless me/’Cause I’m black myself”), but most importantly it’s an absolutely banging tune.
We should also support any music made by people with names like ‘Amythyst’. I struggled long and hard whether to recommend this song or Quasheba, Quasheba…
Holy shit: yes, yes and- most emphatically- fucking yes!
I have absolutely no idea who Pink Ranger is. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman, I don’t know if it’s one person or a group, I don’t know if ‘Pink Ranger’ is just the name of an artificial musical program designed to create perfect dance music. All I know about Pink Ranger is that they’re on the very reliable Gulf Audio Company record label, they have a great aesthetic and they frequently release incredible music. Twin Peaks is probably the best example of the delicious combination of the none-more-modern Vaporwave and late 90s Big Beat that he/she/they/it mainly deals in. They’ve released two records this year, both of which are very good and one of which is amazing. Which one? Buy them both, decide for yourself. Dance music just isn’t this good often enough, is it?
You’re probably not old enough to remember Odd Future. I am old enough to remember them, but not really sober enough during their heyday of 2008-2012 to give a proper account of their movements. However, it’s 2019, and not really knowing about something but having a vague idea about it means I’m actually perfect to speak out about it.
Odd Future, to me, seemed like an admirably enthusiastic but essentially vacuous group of young men who loved bright colours and calling people ‘faggot’. They once had a gig cancelled in Auckland, New Zealand because anti-hate groups campaigned against their lyrics supposedly encouraging violence towards women. They were going to be supporting Eminem, who provoked no such reaction. This is because Eminem is white, and so therefore whenever he raps about raping and killing women he’s only doing it ironically and is playing a character. Odd Future were black, and so lacked the mental capacity to employ anything as nuanced as ‘irony’, so when they joked about rape and violence they were actually betraying the genetic brutality of their race.
Is that what we’re saying? Hmm? Is it?
Anyway, I never really ‘got’ Odd Future, and never understood how many people considered their music good enough to excuse their more ‘complicated’ facets. I wouldn’t say I was ‘Full Tegan/Sara‘, but I definitely considered them a curious fad that we’d have a hard time explaining to our children.
And yet they’ve turned out to be possibly the greatest collection of talent since the Class of 92. You’ve got Frank Ocean there, controlling all of popular culture; Earl Sweatshirt there, mumbling his own Pitchfork bible; and Tyler, the Creator who is- whisper it- becoming really, really special! Less attention is paid to Vritra (FKA ‘Pyramid Vritra’, which i think we can all agree is a far cooler name), who has quietly and without much fuss made a rather essential album with Newcastle producer Wilma Archer. It’s great. This song especially. Agreed? Agreed.
“‘When you’re talking to yourself/But nobody’s at home’
That’s a pretty cool line.
Don’t I know this song…?”
Ho-ho, did I know that song?! It may legitimately be one of my favourite and most listened to songs of all time. Now, I’m not saying that the Guns N’ Roses original is objectively the greatest song ever, I’m just saying that if you ever encounter a list of the greatest songs/pieces of music/20th century artistic achievements/human accomplishments ever and Estranged isn’t listed in at least the top ten then that list can officially be deemed illegitimate and the writer forever considered a barbaric philistine. The fact that Bob Dylan and Kendrick Lamar have Nobel and Pulitzer prizes despite neither of them writing Estranged is just sad proof that the Nobel awards have some sort of agenda which makes me rather uncomfortable. This. Is as good. As music. Gets.
Marissa Nadler and The Other One manage to craft an illuminating take on one of (‘one of’!!) the greatest rock songs ever, a brave undertaking comparable to loudly announcing to the King Fahd International Stadium that you were planning to rewrite The Quran in order to ‘sex up’ some of the dryer passages. An absolute success, although it does lose points for not recreating the dolphin noises.
“I kissed your mouth and forgot what it sounded like”
Like, why isn’t Sir Babygirl already one of your favourite things? She’s called freaking ‘Sir Babygirl‘ for a start! Plus, look at that dog she has. Pretty great, no? The first comment on the YouTube video of album highlight Heels states that “This is so low budget it’s high budget”, which kind of succinctly describes the delicious appeal of Sir Babygirl. On the surface her music may be bubblegum gutter punk pop, but when that gutter is sifted through it can reveal many layers of absolute gold.
“I know it’s hard when you think that you’re the only target/The mind’s a funny fruit to sell at the market”
Heels is, on the surface, simply a cracking anthem about those proper bantz nights where you take so many chemical shortcuts to self-validation that you end up staggering home carrying your heels in your hand. I mean, listen to that beat! Look at her hair! She’s partying hard! Paaaaaaaaaaar-taaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!! Can I get a ‘whoop whoop’?? Then, on the 1000th listen, you start paying closer to some of the lyrics:
“Lights shine brighter when there’s tears in your eyes/I guess that’s a nice surprise/Late at night when you’d tuck me into bed/You’d hold a knife over my head/Until my mindless heart bleed/And say ‘sweet dreams'”
Erm… Par… Tay…? Can i get a…? Ahem… Then you realise that Sir Babygirl (real name: Sir Emma Buntangirl) never said she was ‘staggering’ home with her shoes off, obviously still marloned after an epic night out. She said she was ‘running home’*. After a night that included tears and a knife being held over her head. Suddenly the chorus of “You don’t know me anymore/I changed my hair!” sounds less like the defiant call of someone believing that simply changing your appearance can change your identity, and more like someone changing their appearance because she terrified of someone recognising her. Terrified of being found.
(*With ‘her heels on her head’ admittedly, which, I dunno, maybe means something too. I’m not a woman, I don’t know what those weirdos get up to. Probably something to do with her period. Ammi right lads???)
Shit, Sir Babygirl, is everything alright…?
Oh, and by the way, I’ve already trademarked the genre name ‘bubblegum gutter punk pop’.
Perhaps the ‘biggest’ name on this list, because more than twenty years ago he was the front person of a band who- for a tiny yet glorious amount of time- honestly seemed like they were going to change all of music. The Beta Band were one of the the greatest and seemingly most significant ‘indie’ bands of the late 90s/early 00s, even though when all’s said and done all they really achieved was being shamelessly ripped off by Oasis, name-checked by John Cussack and selling precisely 173 records.
Steve Mason has released some incredible solo records as well- including one scientifically proven to be the second best of the year– but ‘About the Light’ unfortunately finds him finally tiring of kicking against the pricks. He’s made a career redefining how rock music can be presented, creating stuff that exposed how laughably conventional supposed ‘alternative’ music can be, so perhaps now he’s allowed to just release a depressingly conventional indie album in his middle age. Sigh…
This song though? Lovely.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Broken Spear album this track comes from is perfectly OK, but this song- this fucking song– man! It’s some of the most unique and wonderful electronic music I’ve heard recently, and it barely two minutes long! Honestly, I’d have much preferred the album if it was simply this magical piece of music extended for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, Silent Energy sell out and try and do different songs in an obvious attempt to sell out to ‘the man’.
Because the Broken Spear album betrays how the majesty of Silent Energy can’t have been entirely their own doing. I’m looking at you, Sluurpee, you’re obviously some sort of musical genius. According to her Bandcamp page she’s released one song. In 2017. Spotify tells me that she guested on a Supertandad album this year. She’s got around the same number of Twitter followers as me. I’m stating it now, based on her appearance on one song, that she’s evidently something of an aural Goddess who will soon revolutionise the very way we consume music. You definitely saw her here first!
OK, Sluurpee, you’re now officially ‘my artist‘, and I expect a big shout out when you win your first Grammy. No, I want you to call me up from the audience to join you on stage to collect the award, but the camera will catch my bashfully and humbly declining, telling you that “this is your night”. People will think I’m so fucking down to Earth.
OK, I don’t want to spend too much time writing about this song, so I’m just going to quickly give you the five point plan on how you write a brilliant pop song:
- Think of a good melody
- Put a donk on it
- Write lyrics about seeing rainbows in a guy’s eyes or some shit
- That’s it
- Probably doesn’t need to be a five point plan
Even some of the greatest pop songs of recent years- your Get Luckys, your Rehabs, your Can’t Get you Out of My Heads- are essentially just one amazing melody that’s been expertly produced and presented. I mean, fuck, we all agree that Call Me Maybe is one of the greatest human achievements of the 21st century, yes? That song’s essentially just one riff that’s presented in a genius way! All you need is one melody. Get to it, you lazy fuckers.
There are some people who struggle to think of killer melodies. Some people pretend that they don’t want to come up with melodies, and that’s fine, you’re legally allowed to say whatever you want. On the sleeve of ‘When I Get Home‘ it credits ‘All lyrics and melodies by Solange Knowles’ which, ahem, I mean, cough, there are definitely lyrics on that album…
Then there are the absolute pop masters. The people who don’t so much struggle to think of a melody but struggle to stop thinking of melodies. These people are the real pop geniuses, who see nothing wrong with taking the amount of quality melodies even the top artists would spread out over an album and squeezing them into one song. Think of how many disparate but still amazing melodies are layered over each other on Dancing Queen or When Doves Cry or Eat Shiitake Mushrooms.
Self Esteem is almost there. Steady I Stand has killer melodies busting out of its hoo-hahs. She hasn’t quite got to the stage of expertly layering these refrains into truly era-defining music, but she’s on her fucking way, damnit! Listening to it again now, it reminded me how much I loved her entire debut album and made me question why I hadn’t bought tickets for her Manchester gig in October*.
Self Esteem has also made me question how I’m judging artists of being unknown enough to be releasing songs ‘you might not have heard’. Motherfucker has 13’000 Twitter followers?! Richard Osman follows her!!! She’s freaking legit!!!
I’ve also had a rather strange little exchange with Self Esteem recently, which… I’ll get into another time…
“She looked me up and down, her pussy melting like a glacier”
Aaaaaaah, I get it now! When David Attenborough ended ‘Blue Planet II‘ by warning us that climate change is forcing the world’s glaciers to, and I quote, ‘Melt like her pussy’, nobody knew what he was talking about. Now I see that he was actually referencing this bang up the elephant introductory track by Dua Saleh*. God, he’s so freaking cool, isn’t he?
(*it also makes more sense now that he described brown surgeonfish as “Bodacious belly floppers, their daddies fly a chopper, they talk about their charities and work they have to offer. They dine by eating lobster, gold accents on their rompers, their fins soaked in that metal bowl absorbing all the copper”, but no one really questioned that at the time. Looking at brown surgeonfishes, it’s all pretty self-evident, innit? Their eyes just scream ‘bodacious belly flopper’)
Sir David also has impeccable taste (as do the two hundred and seventy two thousand people who have viewed that video), as Dua Saleh is an absolute star. Her debut EP is full of compelling reasons why she should be considered Your New Favourite Thing. I love absolutely everything about her and if there’s any justice in the world her debut album proper should be the biggest thing since the King James Bible and by this time next year she’ll be so inescapable it’ll officially be considered cool to pretend to hate her.
OK, ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna take things down a bit for the next couple of songs. Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a drink of your finest, cheapest wine. Kick off your shoes. Look out the window. Consider where you are in your life. Think of how disappointed your parents must be of you. Wonder if, when all’s considered, there really is any point. Have a good cry. Yes, that’s it, drown in your shame.
Quelle Chris is brilliant, and something of a ceaselessly prolific genius. Like, that’s been scientifically proven on many occasions. Next time someone asks you what music you like, simply arch an eyebrow, take a sip of that chilled strawberry bellini, pause again to raise anticipation, then say that you listen to Quelle Chris. That person will immediately assume you’re incredibly smart and culturally sophisticated. They will then- and this is guaranteed- have sex with you.
However, I often have trouble truly falling for Quelle Chris. Usually, when musical acts fail to light that spark that ignites my groin it’s because there’s simply not enough there ( James Blake? The XX?? Vampire Weekend??? Is that it????). The reason I struggle with Quelle Chris is the exact opposite: there’s so fucking much happening in his music that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. His music is a somewhat staggering collage of references and influences, a wave of ideas, beats, styles or melodies that are rarely lingered for longer than necessary. The density of his lyrics also present a stumbling block: I’ve listened to maybe a hundred albums this year, and I don’t know if I allow myself enough time to truly appreciate the themes of a song like Obamacare. I mean, check out that album cover, even his MS Paint skills are on point.
His prolific creativity also poses a problem. The last time I was trying to listen to and take his latest work on board, I paused mid album to go and take a slash. By the time I had returned the fucker had released two more albums! One of which (‘Streaming the Cistern‘) was actually about the piss I’d just had!! I can’t keep up!
That’s what makes Straight Shot so special. After nine tracks on Chris aggressively and (understandably) angrily listing off the ways and to what extent different facets of human existence are becoming steadily weaponised, he takes… a breath… and conjures up something absolutely beautiful.
OK, now we’re talking, this is more like it, this is something you’re unlikely to have heard! 69 plays on Youtube? That’s my fuckin’ jam, baby.
Firstly, ‘Helltown’ might not be the appropriately named artist of all time. ‘Helltown’ were second on the bill at Castle Donington in 1986. ‘Helltown’ had a singer who called himself ‘Scummy Scuba Scrapings’ who tragically died in 1992, after choking to death on his pet honey badger’s anal secretions while off his face on PCP at a party held by the bass player from Trixter. ‘Helltown’ make a racket that might have been considered ‘metal’ in the mid eighties, but now sounds about as dangerous and aggressive as the backing of the latest Little Mix single. ‘Helltown’ are, let’s be honest here, absolutely fucking terrible.
Helltown, however, are rather lovely. They describe themselves simply as ‘bedroom bullshit’ on their Bandcamp page, which is at once unduly harsh on the incredible music they’re* capable of, and yet entirely accurate regarding how they sound. However, if ‘bedroom bullshit’ can lead to an album as immaculate as ‘Picture Perfect Depression‘ then we really shouldn’t be encouraging teenage boys to get out more.
(*or simply ‘he’. It might just be one guy, I’ve no idea. Motherfucker don’t even have a Twitter page)
No. Don’t knock on that door. Leave him in there. He knows what he’s doing. Just ignore those banging noises. And those grunts.
Novel, though, is something fucking else. An absolute indie pop masterpiece, one that you’d immediately assume was crafted by 34 sound engineers and went through numerous rewrites as three dozen session writers passed it to each other, all why Benny Blanco nodded silently at the back of the studio, before being rejected as ‘too good’ for the next Maroon 5 album. Bedroom bullshit? Bullshit.
Yeah, you know when I said that this list wasn’t in any order? I kinda lied. I had to make sure I finished with the one song released in 2019 that in would seriously and unashamedly call an absolute masterpiece. Mouthful isn’t just the best song of 2019 that you ‘might not have heard of’, it’s absolutely the best song of 2019 so far bar none. Fuck, it’s the best piece of popular entertainment released in 2019 so far. It’s the actual height of human achievement so far this year. It’s the best thing to have happened this year, period. Yeah, I know, not many good things have happened this year, so maybe I’m damning with faint praise, but still…
The surrounding album is something of a mini-masterpiece on its own, but its second track is truly one of the most perfectly crafted pop songs of recent years. I’ll accept that it might not strike you as that special on first listen, but after living with this song since its release in January (a bit of an unfair advantage, I know) I can assure you that the song’s tiny tics and expressions burrow into your subconscious over time and you’ll get to your 5’862nd listen still uncovering new pieces of magic.
What’s your favourite bit? is it how it kicks in with the distorted “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-I can’t explain how I came to be such a failure”? The way the song bursts into life with backing vocals on “Take me away/Or I’ll get me in your cellphone”? The way the song changes track on the second verse and Mr. Darling near raps “With a mouthful of wine gums I killed myself/And my lower half descended straight into hell”? Or when the song then breaks down, switching the mood 180 degrees, the music turning more maudlin as Mr. Darling sadly pines “Someday that sweetheart will be mine”? Maybe how the song takes another change in its closing coda, stripping back to just an acoustic guitar while he sings “I want to stay/I want to stay/I want to stay right here for now”? Or how the song still finds time and reason to kick in once again before it finishes? Maybe it’s just the fact that- and I seriously, honestly never noticed this until now- this absolutely perfect pop song doesn’t even have a chorus!? How about the way Mouthful manages to cram in all these ideas and blasts of inspiration into three and a half minutes?
Mouthful honestly reminds me of Hey Ya– though I’m sure Pickle Darling is tired of the Outkast comparisons by now- in the way it seems that every line, every musical flourish, every cute aside, every sung phrase is designed and destined to be endlessly repeated and become cultural catchphrases. Sure, maybe ‘And they climbed up the neck of the nearest giraffe/And they found me up there trying to open a can of last laughs’ might not have the cultural impact of ‘Shake it like a Polaroid picture’, but that’s truly culture’s problem (and its loss).
I’ve not included pieces of genius by Ian Brown and Amanda Palmer, because I considered them slightly too well known for inclusion. Also, commiserations to Hannah Cohen, american poetry club (sic) and Neu Matter, as I actually realised their songs were AMAZING after I’d already started writing this article. And, y’know, I’d already made the collage, so…