Sunday, January 5, 2020

Guest List Week 2019: Year In Review



I started doing Guest List Week back in 2012, and since then it has become one of my favorite annual traditions, something I look forward to all year long. Guest List Week has been a lifeline for me - it's a reason to reconnect with old friends, and a chance to get to know new friends better through music.

Over the last eight years, thirty-five different people have submitted lists, including both my oldest friend in the world (Hi Curt!) and six people I met in the last year, friends from Minnesota to California to Mexico (Missed you this year, Dio!) to The Netherlands (and I'm pretty sure Gene submitted at least one list from Nigeria), friends from school and work and dog rescue, friends of Ilana's who have become friends of mine, and even one person* who has both appeared on a list and submitted one. Two people (Congratulations Curt and Carl!) have participated all eight years, and a bunch of other people have only missed one (If you or anyone you know have information regarding the whereabouts of Ilana's possibly apocryphal 2014 list, please contact the relevant authorities).

* (So far!)

2019 marks the biggest Guest List Week ever with nineteen lists, and the fact that it is now spread over three full weeks means we probably need to rename it for 2020. To commemorate such a great year, I wanted to take a look at the list we made as a group, tallying up all of our picks to see what 2019 really looked like. So here it is.

SONGS OF THE YEAR

In total, 407 different songs* appeared on at least one list, and 79 different songs appeared on more than one.

* (Defining a song to include all versions - for example, both the original and remix of Taylor Swift's "Lover" made different lists, that counts as one song.)

Our Song of the Year was a tie between Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" and the Charli XCX / Christine & The Queens duet "Gone," both of which appeared on seven lists. 

Our Top Songs (song appearing on at least three lists):

Taylor Swift - "Cruel Summer" (7 Lists)
Charli XCX and Christine & The Queens - "Gone" (7 Lists)
Dua Lipa - "Don't Start Now" (6 Lists)
Normani - "Motivation" (5 Lists)
Sharon Van Etten - "Seventeen" (5 Lists)
Better Oblivion Community Center - "Dylan Thomas" (4 Lists)
Bon Iver - "Hey, Ma" (4 Lists)
Sam Smith - "How Do You Sleep?" (4 Lists)
Lizzo - "Juice" (4 Lists)
Katy Perry - "Never Really Over" (4 Lists)
HAIM - "Now I'm In It" (4 Lists)
Billie Eilish - "bad guy" (3 Lists)
Alex Lahey - "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" (3 Lists)
Vampire Weekend - "Harmony Hall" (3 Lists)
Kygo and Whitney Houston - "Higher Love" (3 Lists)
The Highwomen - "Highwomen" (3 Lists)
Big Thief - "Not" (3 Lists)
Ashley O - "On A Roll" (3 Lists)
Lizzo - "Soulmate" (3 Lists)
HAIM - "Summer Girl" (3 Lists)
Matt Beringer, Phoebe Bridgers - "Walkin' On A String" (3 Lists)
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Want You In My Room" (3 Lists)


ARTISTS OF THE YEAR

With collaborations, features, and remixes, it's hard to say exactly how many artists made at least one list. If we restrict it to lead artist only, I can tell you that 61 artists had at least two songs that appeared on at least one list. 

Our Artist of the Year is also a tie, between Ariana Grande and Lizzo, both of whom had seven* different songs appear on at least one list.

* (Lizzo's appearance on Charli XCX's "Blame It On Your Love" would be an eighth if you're looking for a way to break the tie.)

Our Top Artists (artists with at least three songs that made a list):

Ariana Grande (7 Songs)
Lizzo (7 Songs)
Carly Rae Jepsen (6 Songs)
Lana Del Rey (6 Songs)
Maggie Rogers (6 Songs)
Taylor Swift (6 Songs)
The Highwomen (5 Songs)
ROSALIA (5 Songs)
Better Oblivion Community Center (4 Songs)
Beyonce (4 Songs)
Big Thief (4 Songs)
Charli XCX (4 Songs)
Jenny Lewis (4 Songs)
Kim Petras (4 Songs)
Vampire Weekend (4 Songs)
Billie Eilish (3 Songs)
Bon Iver (3 Songs)
Harry Styles (3 Songs)
Maren Morris (3 Songs)
Martha (3 Songs)
Michael Kiwanuka (3 Songs)
MUNA (3 Songs)
The National (3 Songs)
Sturgill Simpson (3 Songs)


Full Breakdown

Here is a playlist of every song on every list:


And, because we show our work here at Burn Your Hits, here is every song and artist to appear on more than one list:

Songs

7 Lists

Taylor Swift - "Cruel Summer"
Charli XCX and Christine & The Queens - "Gone"

6 Lists

Dua Lipa - "Don't Start Now"

5 Lists

Normani - "Motivation"
Sharon Van Etten - "Seventeen"

4 Lists

Better Oblivion Community Center - "Dylan Thomas"
Bon Iver - "Hey, Ma"
Sam Smith - "How Do You Sleep?"
Lizzo - "Juice"
Katy Perry - "Never Really Over"
HAIM - "Now I'm In It"

3 Lists

Billie Eilish - "bad guy"
Alex Lahey - "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself"
Vampire Weekend - "Harmony Hall"
Kygo and Whitney Houston - "Higher Love"
The Highwomen - "Highwomen"
Big Thief - "Not"
Ashley O - "On A Roll"
Lizzo - "Soulmate"
HAIM - "Summer Girl"
Matt Beringer, Phoebe Bridgers - "Walkin' On A String"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Want You In My Room"

2 Lists

Georgia - "About Work The Dancefloor"
Ariana Grande - "Bad Idea"
Charli XCX - "Blame In On Your Love" (f/ Lizzo)
Ariana Grande - "Bloodline"
Charly Bliss - "Capacity"
Megan Thee Stallion - "Cash Shit" (f/ DaBaby)
Big Thief - "Cattails"
FKA Twigs - "cellophane"
ROSALIA - "Con Altura"
The Highwomen - "Crowded Table"
Kim Petras - "Do Me"
Julia Jacklin - "Don't Know How To Keep Loving You"
SG Lewis - "Easy Loving You" (f/ Kamille)
Maggie Rogers - "Fallingwater"
Meek Mill - "Going Bad" (f/ Drake)
Jenny Lewis - "Heads Gonna Roll"
Kriss Kross Amsterdam - "Hij Is Van Mij" (f/ Bizzey)
King Princess - "Hit The Back"
Tacocat - "Hologram"
Hot Chip - "Hungry Child"
Nilufer Yanya - "In Your Head"
Illuminati Hotties - "I Wanna Keep Yr Dog"
BLACKPINK - "Kill This Love"
Angel Olson - "Lark"
Rosie Tucker - "Lauren"
Maggie Rogers - "Light On"
Taylor Swift - "Lover"
Better Oblivion Community Center - "Little Trouble"
Martha - "Love Keeps Kicking"
Maggie Rogers - "Love You For A Long Time"
Sturgill Simpson - "Make Art Not Friends"
Sturgill Simpson - "Mercury In Retrograde"
White Reaper - "Might Be Right"
ROSALIA - "Milionaria"
Martha - "Mini Was A Preteen Arsonist"
Miley Cyrus - "Mother's Daughter"
Saweetie - "My Type"
Charli XCX - "Next Level Charli"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Now That I Found You"
MUNA - "Number One Fan"
Lil Nas X - "Old Town Road"
Jenny Lewis - "On The Line"
Sir Babygirl - "Pink Lite"
Tove Lo - "Really Don't Like U" (f/ Kylie Minogue)
YBN Cordae - "RNP" (f/ Anderson .Paak)
Woahnows - "Skin Peels"
Craig Finn - "Something To Hope For"
Brittany Howard - "Stay High"
Ariana Grande - "thank u, next"
Ciara - "Thinkin Bout You"
Maggie Rogers - "Tim McGraw"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Too Much"
Mark Ronson - "True Blue" (f/ Angel Olson)
Bon Iver - "U (Man Like)"
Oso Oso - "the view"
Tanya Tucker - "The Wheels of Laredo"
ROSALIA - "Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi"

Artists

7 Songs

Ariana Grande ("Into You," "imagine," "NASA," "bloodline," "bad idea," "ghostin'," "thank u, next")
Lizzo ("Like a Girl," "Juice," "Soulmate," "Cuz I Love You," "Tempo," "Lingerie," "Good As Hell")

6 Songs

Carly Rae Jepsen ("Now That I Found You," "Want You In My Room," "Too Much," "Feels Right," "For Sure," "Party For One")
Lana Del Rey ("Norman fucking Rockwell," "Love song," "California," "The greatest," "Bartender," "hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but i have it")
Maggie Rogers ("Light On," "Say It," "Fallingwater," "Burning," "Love You For A Long Time," "Tim McGraw")
Taylor Swift ("Cruel Summer," "Lover," "Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince," "Paper Rings, "Death By A Thousand Cuts," "Afterglow," "Lover"

5 Songs

The Highwomen ("The Chain," "Crowded Table," "Highwomen," "Redesigning Women," "If She Ever Leaves Me")
ROSALIA ("Aute Cuture," "Con Altura," "Milionaria," "A Pale," "Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi")

4 Songs

Better Oblivion Community Center ("Dylan Thomas," "Forest Lawn," "Dominos," "Little Trouble")
Beyonce ("all of Homecoming," "Diva," "MOOD 4 EVA," "SPIRIT")
Big Thief ("Not," "UFOF," "Cattails," "Orange")
Charli XCX ("Blame It On Your Love," "Next Level Charli," "Gone," "Shake It")
Jenny Lewis ("Heads Gonna Roll," "Red Bull & Hennessy," "Hollywood Lawn," "On The Line")
Kim Petras ("Got My Number," "Do Me," "If U Think About Me...," "< demons >")
Vampire Weekend ("Harmony Hall," "This Life," "Sympathy," "Stranger")

3 Songs

Billie Eilish ("lovely," "bad guy," "i love you")
Bon Iver ("Faith," "Hey, Ma," "U (Man Like)")
Harry Styles ("Adore You," "Fine Line," "Watermelon Sugar")
Maren Morris ("GIRL," "All My Favorite People," "Common")
Martha ("Heart Is Healing," "Mini Was A Preteen Arsonist," "Love Keeps Kicking")
Michael Kiwanuka ("Rolling," "I've Been Dazed," "Money)
MUNA ("Number One Fan," "Motivation," "Stayaway")
The National ("Quiet Light," "I Am Easy To Find," "Rylan")
Sturgill Simpson ("Ronin," "Make Art Not Friends," "Mercury In Retrograde")

2 Songs

Alec Benjamin ("Jesus in LA," "Let Me Down Slowly")
Alex Lahey ("Don't Be So Hard On Yourself," "Welcome To The Black Parade")
Andrew Bird ("Bloodless," "Olympians")
Angel Olsen ("Lark," "What It Is")
Avicii ("SOS," "Heaven")
Beach Bunny ("Dream Boy," "Ms. California")
BLACKPINK ("Kill This Love," "Don't Know What To Do")
Charly Bliss ("Capacity," "Young Enough")
Clairo ("Closer To You, "Softly")
Craig Finn ("Something To Hope For," "It's Never Been A Fair Fight")
Dave ("Professor X," "Location")
DIIV ("Skin Game," "Blankenship")
Ed Sheeran ("Beautiful People," "Take Me Back To London")
FKA Twigs ("cellophane," "sad day")
HAIM ("Now I'm In It," "Summer Girl")
Hand Habits ("Placeholder," "Can't Calm Down")
Hatchie ("Her Own Heart," "Without A Blush")
The Head and the Heart ("See You Through My Eyes," "People Need A Melody")
Jamila Woods ("BASQUIAT," "BALDWIN")
Julia Jacklin ("Pressure To Party," "Don't Know How To Keep Loving You")
Khalid ("Better," "Right Back")
Mandy Moore ("I'd Rather Lose," "When I Wasn't Watching")
Mannequin Pussy ("Drunk II," "Who You Are")
Mark Ronson ("Nothing Breaks Like A Heart," "True Blue")
Miley Cyrus ("Mother's Daughter," "The Most")
Oso Oso ("the view," "impossible game")
pronoun ("run," "sadie")
Sam Smith ("Dancing With A Stranger," "How Do You Sleep?")
Sebastian Yatra ("Un Ano," "Runaway")
Slaughter Beach, Dog ("Good Ones," "Tangerine")
Stormzy ("Own It," "Vossi Bop")
Strange Ranger ("Leona," "Living Free")
Tame Impala ("Borderline," "Patience")
Tones and I ("Dance Monkey," "Jimmy")
Toro y Moi ("Freelance, "Who I Am")
Tove Lo ("Are U gonna tell her?," "Really don't like u")
Wilco ("Everyone Hides," "Hold Me Anyway")

Saturday, January 4, 2020

GLW 019: Lucas Richard-Posada

GUEST LIST WEEK

GLW 019: LUCAS RICHARD-POSADA

***


No matter the time of year, if I hear a good Latin song, it takes me back to summer days in Colombia sipping some strong cocktail by the beach. I get this sudden urge to dance, like a drum beat inside me that I must follow along. I’m never happier than when I’m listening and dancing to a good Latin song with friends at a bar or house party. Lucky for me, LatinX music is taking over the world and I can indulge in my vice often. "Despacito" by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi might not be the greatest song ever created but it brought a much-needed genre of music into the mainstream. From superb collaborations over the years (Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Madonna) to Flamenco crossover, LatinX music is here to stay. 

As many other lists from people with much better music knowledge and taste than me have already been published, I decided I’d spare Aaron from more Dua Lipa song entries and bring some cultural diversity to the blog by focusing my list exclusively on LatinX music. Below is a list of songs from 2019 that made me dance, put me in a great mood, sing aloud (despite my terrible voice) and overall make me feel like I can take over the world. Numbered in no particular order.
  1. Rosalia, J Balvin – Con Altura
  2. Maluma, Ricky Martin  No Se Me Quita
  3. Lunay, Daddy Yankee & Bad Bunny  Soltera Remix
  4. Rosalia, Ozuna  Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi
  5. Reik  Raptame
  6. Pedro Capo & Farruko  Calma Remix
  7. Sebastián Yatra, Reik – Un Año
  8. Anitta, Becky G  Banana
  9. Sebastian Yatra, Daddy Yankee, Jonas Brothers & Natti Natasha  Runaway
  10. DJ Snake, J Balvin, Tyga  Loco Contigo
  11. Bad Bunny, J Balvin  La Cancion
  12. Play-N-Skillz, Luis Coronel  Que Bomba
  13. Juanes, Alessia Cara – Querer Mejor
Honorable Mentions

Madonna, Maluma – Medellin. Not a great song but how can I not highlight a song from a music icon singing about how great my home city is.

Maan de Steenwinkel, Bizzey, Tabitha, Kris Kross Amsterdam – Hij Is Van Mij. Thought it’s not technically a LatinX song, it sure sounds like one. The first time I heard this Dutch hit at Taboo, I was captivated by how much it resembles a reggaetón song; the beat, the rhythm, that drum inside me. I was hooked. 

Friday, January 3, 2020

GLW 018: Carl Anderson

GUEST LIST WEEK

GLW 018: CARL ANDERSON

***


This year I got back to listening to a lot of new music.  Good job, me!  And a lot of it is really good.  Good job, bands!

1. Julia Jacklin - “Pressure To Party”

I got so much pleasure from this perfect song this year.  The first time I heard it I got hooked by the end of the first verse.  I know where you live / I used to live there too.  Bang.   That’s how you make folks sit up and listen.  There’s something Lennon-McCartney about this song.  Maybe several things.  A great middle eight, pushing right to the peak emotion: God how it hurts.

Pressure to act the right way around him
We're both in the crowd with people surrounding
Us, what do I do? Don't know how it works 

Pressure to not let the inside of my mind
Spill onto the floor for our friends to find
It, oh, what do I do? 'Cause God how it hurts

That little guitar riff after each of these verses, it’s all you need.  The guitars, bass, drums, all playing rhythm.  A final verse and then it’s just rocking so hard you can’t help but “ahhhahhha” and then wrap it up at 2:59.  Wow.

A premise of indie rock is that if you can write good songs, you don’t need virtuoso technique or novel production tricks.  Technically speaking, everything you need was well in hand by 1970.  You just need the songs.  Like this one.

2. Frances Quinlan - “Rare Thing”

This is the most beautiful track of the year, and the most unexpected to me.  No phrase cools my enthusiasm as consistently as “solo project.”  As in “Mick Jagger solo project.”  Ugh.  You already know it won’t work, and everybody knows exactly why it won’t work.  Even Spotify lists this track as “Frances Quinlan, Hop Along” as if it can’t bear to admit it.  So you can imagine my pleasure finding that this track is effing great.  “I know there is love that doesn't have to do with taking something from somebody.” My entire worldview is shook.  Let’s hope the album delivers on this promise!

3. Tacocat - “Hologram”

Tacocat’s new album definitely sounds like another step away from the garage, which is risky.  But it worked.  And it seems like everyone in the band stepped up.  Is that gated reverb on the drums?  “Sounds like Phil Collins” is not a phrase you would expect to see applied to Tacocat, at least not as a compliment.

4. Beach Bunny - “Dream Boy”

Very high expectations satisfied.  I thought last year’s “Prom Queen” was good but not exceptional.  (Now it has 33 million listens on Spotify.  How does that happen?  Not sure they can sell 100 tickets in San Francisco.  Not sure I even know anyone else who listens to them—Aaron?).  Well “Dream Boy” is exceptional, so don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more from this band.

5. illuminati hotties - “I Wanna Keep Yr Dog”

Tenderpunk pioneer Sarah Tudzin delivers again.  Everyone who has ever dated someone with a dog can relate—how has this not been done before?

You're alright but I wanna 
Keep your dog
This is the last night unless you let me 
Keep your dog
I know you want me close
But when you're gone it's her I miss the most
I'd rather keep your dog

Maybe this is one of those things that in retrospect seems like a totally obvious topic to write a song about, but if you approached it from a blank page it could seem an impossible challenge.  That could be right.  Tudzin can do amazing things.

6. Ra Ra Riot - “Bad To Worse”

Turning back to surprises, I would not have guessed that I would even listen to Ra Ra Riot this year.  I have a vague recollection of 2010-era singles from them. Come to find out they’ve kept on making albums for the last nine years and I’ve ignored them.  Are any of those tracks this good?  This song deserves some kind of best-achievement-in-storytelling award.

7. Woahnows - “Skin Peels”

There are three people in this band.  There are four in Martha.  So on a per person basis, these are the best songwriters in the UK this year.  Is anyone in the US listening?  Thank you Aaron for working to right this small injustice.

8. Martha - “Heart Is Healing”

I listened to this track the most this year because it is the first on the new album that I started listening to like 100 times.  Debatable whether there are one or two songs better than this one, but why would anyone fight over that, they are all great.

9. Better Oblivion Community Center - “Dylan Thomas”

We should all be grateful for how well this combination works.  I felt trepidation.  Bridgers is coming straight off one great solo album and one great supergroup album; Oberst peaked for me many years ago, and seems to form a band every few months.  Also, I wondered about Bridgers’ choices.  I mean, going from “You were in a band when I was born” to “you were in a band when I was four” did not seem promising.  Well I was wrong.  On this track together they manage to sound exactly like the best possible version of themselves.

10. Vampire Weekend - “This Life”

If not for being fully gobsmacked by the Ra Ra Riot album, I’d probably call this the comeback of the year.  This album sounds great, find a way to listen to it loud.

11. Jenny Lewis - “On The Line”

In my world, Lewis has grown from not-even-the-best-thing-about-Rilo-Kiley, to a you-really-should-listen-to-this artist, to pop royalty.  Long may she reign.

12. Sharon Van Etten - “Seventeen”

There has been plenty written about this song.  I’ll just agree it is a highlight of the year.  It even made Barack Obama’s list.  Put on your dad jeans and rock.

13. Wallows - “Remember When”

Another first album here, this one pretty solid, but only this track stood out for me.  Looks like it will not be released as a single.  In fact, this might be the best thing the band has done despite releasing almost everything else as a single.  Maybe there is something embarrassing about this track I’m missing.

14. MEMBA - “Schools Out”

This track was my electronic jam and played throughout my summer the way Purity Ring (R.I.P.) used to.

15. Mura Masa, Clairo - “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”

The lo-fi, dreamy lounge stylings of Clairo with a crazy drop.  I lose focus if I try to listen to Clairo for more than a minute, but just putting a giant EDM drop in the middle turns out to break up the plainness very nicely. 

16. Sir Babygirl - “Pink Lite”

No idea what this song is about.  Don’t even get what “pink lite” is.  Gotta respect taking a handful of lines that only sometimes even make sense and turning them into this rager.

17. Better Oblivion Community Center - “Little Trouble”

This is another summer tune I played a lot.  Is there a coherent theme behind the catchy verses and couplets?  Some of them seem to be just clever updates on “get off my lawn.”  Come on, Gen Z is too easy a target right now; we should be punching up, not down.  I wish I could find more to approve of, ‘cause I like listening to this track a lot. 

18. Alex Lahey - “Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself”

Best song on her sophomore album, you could do worse.

19. Nilüfer Yanya - “In Your Head”

My brother-in-law and I were sitting around playing “you should listen to this” and when I pulled up this track, after 10 seconds he said “No, no, absolutely not.”  I was like, WTF, you’ve only heard the intro, not even the song. Fortunately I am very good at ignoring what he thinks.  This rocks.

20. Martha - “Love Keeps Kicking”

You read this blog, and you can’t expect me to say anything more about Martha than what you’ve already read.

21. Sports Team - “Fishing”

Easy to imagine this middle England band is the social opposite of Martha.  In any event, they are nearly as conventional as Martha is radical, and that’s OK because they seem to own it.

One of my favorite band names of the year (slightly trailing pronoun in late polling).

22. Mannequin Pussy - “Drunk II”

This is not tender punk.  Is it even punk?  I remember Philly from the 80s as a classic rock town, where WYSP ruled and WXPN was for college nerds.  Now WYSP is long gone, and WXPN is a powerhouse in Alternative Rock (or whatever).  I don’t know Mannequin Pussy but imagine they grew up listening to hard rock canon.  Certainly this rocks the way you would expect.  “I still love you, you stupid fuck.”  I would hold up a lighter for that.

23. Jenny Lewis - “Red Bull & Hennessey”

Jenny Lewis can put together a jam band, and a damn good one.

24. Hand Habits - “placeholder”

A wise man predicted this would show up.  Easy to make it happen.

25. Slaughter Beach, Dog - “Tangerine”

Philadelphia continues to represent in the alternative universe too.  I heard of this project because of Nick Harris on guitar (from All Dogs, listen to "That Kind of Girl" please).  Now I hear it is also a guy from Modern Baseball.  That’s the kind of happy thing happens when a scene is so full of talent.

There’s a Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, I don’t know if this song references that one, but if so it fits. 

26. The Regrettes - “I Dare You” 

File under: catchy LA garage pop.

27. Alex Cameron - “Divorce”

Cameron is a strong songwriter and gifted mimic, who usually adopted in his stories the perspective of the kind of guy we don’t really feel any need to hear from right now.  Maybe those stories of failure and frustration weren’t meant as grievance, maybe irony is not dead, let’s not fight about all that.  Here’s my pitch:  when he sings “I got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch / If that's how you want to play it”—that’s pathos.  Hear the desperation and fear in the delivery of those lines.  “All you gotta do is say it: divorce.”  Or if you don’t hear it, move on, sorry to waste your time.

28. Maggie Rogers - “Light On”

Another summer favorite artist of Barack Obama (but it was for “Burning”).  I heard this playing in the mall and my mind went back to this Twitter moment.

Heart warming and stomach turning at the same time.

29. Andrew Bird - “Olympians”

Andrew Bird packs more musical ideas into one song than anyone else on this list.  Listening to this album puts more demands on the ear than I’m used to, and sure that impacts how much and how often I enjoy it.  But if that sounds like more of a feature than a bug, this is a must listen.  Plenty of other high points on this album. 

30. Twin Shadow - “Truly”

Another year, another hit from Twin Shadow.  One of these days he has to get huge.

31. Faye Webster - “Room Temperature”

Granted this song is about three minutes of her chanting “I should get out more,” but it really does make me think that I should get out more.

32. Rosie Tucker - “Lauren”

This is a very sad song that doesn’t exactly sound sad and I find it hard to say why that is.

33. Beach Bunny - “Ms. California”

I heard this song about three days before I made this list, so not sure how it will last.  It does seem like a fine expression of a certain role California plays in the American imagination, and therefore in our pop music.  Definitely better than Katy Perry’s song in any event.

34. Vampire Weekend - “Harmony Hall”

To repeat:  this is a great album and several other tracks could easily be on anyone’s list.

35. Aldous Harding - “The Barrel”

Her voice is so smooth, and this is a beautifully played track.  Another song I have no comprehension of at all:  “It's already dead / I know you have the dove / I'm not getting wet / Looks like a date is set / Show the ferret to the egg / I'm not getting led along.

Show the ferret to the egg?

36. Frankie Cosmos - “Windows”

The story so far: I listened to this album and liked it.  This seemed like a good track (also listen to the album please, it’s 17 tracks and not really singles).  Then today I found out who her parents are and not quite sure how that is going to play out.  On the one hand, Frankie Cosmos is about the most dumb-obvious stage name, so it seems a bit lame-ironic to use it.  Would it really matter if you went by Greta Kline, which is a perfectly fine indie singer-songwriter name?  Greta Kline from the upper east side – why yes, her dad is the actor.  Boy, I hope she doesn’t have some terrible relationship with her dad driving this.  Then I would feel really bad.  She picked a stage name and that’s cool, not like she needs any special permission to do that.  But the fact that she can talk to any creative person in New York with a phone call from dad is just weird to me, really weird for someone whose ambition is to sign with Polyvinyl Records or to open for Mitski (at least that’s what I imagine from this album).

37. Bibio - “Old Graffiti”

If you like to chill to somewhat ambient electronica that still sounds like pop music, this was a standout track this year.

38. Sambassadeur - “Foot of Afrikka”

While I personally was very excited about the return of Sambassadeur, they didn’t make that much of an impact.  Maybe their sound no longer strikes folks as current (fair enough) but I can’t help but think this track would have killed about four years ago.

39. Julia Jacklin - “Don't Know How To Keep Loving You”

Let’s have Julia play us out with a slow burn, it was her year.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

GLW 017: Mike Brand

GUEST LIST WEEK

GLW 017: MIKE BRAND
GLW 018: Carl Anderson

***


Choosing the best former Fifth Harmony member who had a great duet and single this year was a challenge. Normani’s hit, "Motivation" is a perfect throwback and her duet with Sam Smith was also v good. On the other hand Camila’s duet with Shawn Mendes, "Senorita," was the most streamed song of the summer, but her solo work has struggled ("Cry For Me" is great tho). Normani takes the crown this year.

Another general winner this year? Spooky music. Across Billie Eilish, Kim Petras, 5 Seconds of Summer, Bishop Briggs, and Hayley Kiyoko we had a surprising variety of halloween appropriate bops. 

However, as a whole, there is one clear winner for the year. 2019 was the year of Ariana Grande. "thank u, next" at the end of 2018 set her up, and then with "7 rings" and her album she solidified her place in the pop pantheon. Closing out the year with her live album was her victory lap. 

Some other gentler narratives: 
  • For the second time Katy Perry has released an amazing lead single off a new album, and then fumbled it with the follow ups. 
  • Dua Lipa still feels like she could really hit but hasn’t quite made it to the top tier of divas yet.
  • Self Love is also having a moment with MUNA’s "Number One Fan" and Lizzo’s "Soulmate"

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

GLW 016: Drew Ginther

GUEST LIST WEEK

GLW 016: DREW GINTHER
GLW 017: Mike Brand
GLW 018: Carl Anderson

***


You have a better chance of getting cutting edge, new music from the Billboard Top 40 than you do from me. I listened to 64,000 minutes in 2019 (thanks Spotify), but that was probably dispersed amongst 50 songs. If I find a song I like, I’ll play it on repeat until I can’t stand it. Also, I don’t listen to lyrics I just need to hear a voice I like and a beat that puts me in a decent mood. So ENJOY. (Not sure why I was asked to be a contributor to a music blog). I’ve no clue if these songs are all from 2019, but they’re 2019 for me. 

Sunday Mornings Artist: Artist that makes my EXCLUSIVE Sunday Mornings Artist which I play ... every Sunday when I’m hungover.

1. P!nk - "I Am Here"

We saw her in Köln this summer and this song was great. I didn’t really know it at this point and it brought a lot of energy. Also, it turns me on that P!nk could kick my ass on any given day.

2. Lizzo - "Good As Hell"

Ilana tried to convince me to go to Lizzo’s first show in Amsterdam early 2019 in Paradiso Noord, but I wasn’t convinced yet. After more convincing, I bought a ticket for the show at AFAS Live and wow ... I definitely felt good as hell after this. I won’t miss another Lizzo show when I’m in the same city.

3. Sam Smith - "How Do You Sleep?"

Love SS. I can listen to their music in any mood. Sunday Mornings Artist.

4. Kygo, Whitney - "Higher Love"

If you can release music from the bottom of a bathtub, I’ll listen. But really, this song was my pre-drinks go-to song for most of the year.

5. Dennis Lloyd - "GFY"

I played this song during every summer commute when I was sweating and hungover. GFY, line 54 naar Gein.

6. Sampha - "Blood on Me"

This was the album I probably listened to the most this year. From top to bottom, Sampha nailed it ... for me. Sunday Mornings Artist.

7. Avicii, Aloe Blacc - "SOS"

Although I disagreed with exploiting Avicii even further, I couldn’t help but love this song with Aloe Blacc. Love his voice.

8. Paola Pellegrino, Susan Tyler "‘74-‘75" (Radio Edit)

This song had summer all over it for me. I’ve never heard of either of the people, nor have I listened to anything else from them but this song gave me some sun in cloudy Amsterdam.

9. Cosmo’s Midnight, Winston Surfshirt - "Get To Know"

Same with the one above and the one below, I know nothing about these artists but these songs were all on repeat at the same time and it took longer than the normal two weeks for me to play them into the ground.

10. Roman Müller, Gina Livia - "Easy Life"

See the above two descriptions.

11. Emeli Sande - "Sparrow Concert" 

1 of 2 where it was all British housewives, Aaron and I. I love her voice. Sunday Mornings Artist.

12. James Morrison, Joss Stone - "My Love Goes On"

Roomie and I have been listening to James Morrison since we got together 12 years ago and we finally saw him live. Concert 2 of 2 with the British housewives. Sunday Mornings Artist.

13. Loboda - SuperSTAR

Song 1 of 2 that we heard in every bar in Saint Petersburg. These two made it to my top 20 songs and all I know is that Russian pop is where it’s at. Also, it was cool when after this song the Russian drag queen said she wanted to do the splits on my face.

14. Artik & Asti feat. Артем Качер - "Грустный Дэнс"

See above. 2 of 2 Of Russian pop songs.

15. Haim - "Summer Girl"

Aren’t we all just summer girls?

16. Florence + The Machine - "Hunger"

Florence is weird as fuck but she didn’t disappoint this year at her show in Bologna. Sunday Mornings Artist.

17. Charlie XCX, Christine and the Queens - "Gone"

This has Club G written all over it. 🌸

18. Lost Frequencies, Aloe Blacc - "Truth Never Lies"

This album by Lost Frequencies was one I played on repeat for quite some time. One of many great songs on the album.

19. Tom Walker, Zara Larsson - "Now You’re Gone"

Not sure why, but this song is still playing after months.

20. Sigala, Becky Hill - "Wish You Well (Acoustic)"

Her voice is on the verge of annoying, but with the song above I am still listening after months.

21. Bon Iver - "Hey, Ma"

I just really like this song and Bon Iver is always easy to listen to.

22. John Newman - "Feelings"

John Newman’s voice is probably annoying to many, but I love it. I’ll listen to all of his music.

Monday, December 30, 2019

GLW 015: Ryan Joyce

GUEST LIST WEEK

GLW 015: RYAN JOYCE
GLW 016: Drew Ginther
GLW 017: Mike Brand
GLW 018: Carl Anderson

***



Salvation is coming in the morning,
But now what we need,
Is a little rain on our face from you, sweet
Saint Honesty

— “Saint Honesty,” Sara Bareilles

Jonathan Franzen penned an essay for the New Yorker this September titled, “What If We Stopped Pretending?” It assesses the global response to climate change but doubles as a meditation on how the human fixation on salvation at the expense of honesty undermines us in times of crisis. (Aside one — swaths of popular media panned Franzen for promoting what they saw as inaction on climate change, which I think is, generously, a misreading of the argument.)

Franzen is unsparing in detailing the current state of play. (Aside two — Critics noted the facts aren’t all spot on, but maybe it’s telling that the novelist is reflecting the popular, not wholly inaccurate, understanding of the state (we think) the world is in.) There is no refuting at this point the scientific evidence that the world is warming fast this, he says, and though that evidence has been mounting for decades, we’ve made no meaningful inroads towards a solution. He asserts that everyone in their early 30s or younger is guaranteed to endure the seismic geopolitical consequences of fires, flooding, mass migration, and extreme economic instability. (That list, scarily, is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive.)

What bothers Franzen more than the impending devastation of the planet and our society, though, is how public debate frames the issue. (Final aside — this, too, got folks worked up.) He assails discussion of climate change that props up belief in a future in which the problem is not just mitigated, but solved. Instead, he proposes an alternative to the approach he deems insidious and disingenuous.

Some climate activists argue that if we publicly admit that the problem can’t be solved, it will discourage people from taking any ameliorative action at all. This seems to me not only a patronizing calculation but an ineffectual one, given how little progress we have to show for it to date. The activists who make it remind me of the religious leaders who fear that, without the promise of eternal salvation, people won’t bother to behave well. In my experience, nonbelievers are no less loving of their neighbors than believers. And so I wonder what might happen if, instead of denying reality, we told ourselves the truth. (emphasis mine)

Perpetuating the hope that as-yet unsolved problems can be solved at the drop of a hat, he goes on to argue, is, more than just ineffective, but also counterproductive, because it distorts your view on the types of actions that can mitigate the damage.

If you persist in believing that catastrophe can be averted, you commit yourself to tackling a problem so immense that it needs to be everyone’s overriding priority forever. One result, weirdly, is a kind of complacency: by voting for green candidates, riding a bicycle to work, avoiding air travel, you might feel that you’ve done everything you can for the only thing worth doing. Whereas, if you accept the reality that the planet will soon overheat to the point of threatening civilization, there’s a whole lot more you should be doing.

Franzen argues for something like an intersectional view of climate action, one that considers not only what we eat, what we wear, how we travel, and how we vote, but also the health of our institutions, the affordance of equal rights, the promotion of the rule of law, and the active resistance our most violent impulses. That work, he argues, serves to mediate the pain climate change inflicts while we sort out ways to manage the root cause.

So yes, Franzen’s essay is about climate change, but it got me thinking about the other ills that spent 2019 revolving around me at various removes:

What to do about the changing tactics of populists and nationalists, who find ever more nefarious ways undermine our institutions?

Or how to combat the corrupting influence of power on the leaders of even the most benevolent, mission-driven organizations, like my place of work? What’s the proper response when colleagues lose jobs unnecessarily, when micromanagers upend carefully crafted plans, or when leaders choose to intimidate and deflect, rather than to be held to account?

Is there a way to navigate family dynamics complicated by distance, money, politics, sex, and death? What’s the right stance to take towards friends who lie, partners who let you down? What school of epistemological thought teaches you to separate the real from the fake in social circles that thrive on irony-laced text messages, booze-fueled philosophizing, and drug-induced lovefests?

And worst of all, how to come to grips with the fact that you — just as much as anyone else — indulge your tendencies to pollute and be wasteful, to fret over budgets and set tight deadlines, to forget birthdays and anniversaries, to bail on plans last-minute, to play the caustic cynic over text or the loudmouth lightweight at the kiki?

***

I must have thought the equivalent of a few months’ worth of time listening to music would help. And upon looking back: sure, some patterns emerge. 

Many of the songs that stuck with me in 2019 extolled the virtue of an honest assessment of one’s circumstances, viewing that as a precondition for change. Often, that message felt trivial or tangential to the song’s overarching message or purpose: 

You don’t wanna talk about / You and I / We don’t ever talk about it

Said, “I’m fine,” / But it wasn’t true

If you don’t wanna see me dancing with somebody / Don’t show up

Occasionally, combating denial, confronting assumptions, and telling hard truths felt urgent or central to the message: 

And I am just the shape I’m in / I’m in retrograde 

I spent my whole life waiting patiently / Convinced it all would come to me

Hate casts a long shadow / I know that I lie in it / And let it rule my mind from time to time.

The music I listened to over and over emphasized the descriptive over the prescriptive, the declarative over the imperative. Solutions were hard to come by: few songs bothered to resolve their own internal tension, much less offer up any answers to problems beyond their fictive bounds.

Little in this music felt like a call to action, save for two simple, conservative, provocations. They echo the calls in Franzen’s essay, but you’d recognize them as simple instructions a parent and teacher would give a young child. 

Which means they’re not unique, nuanced or overly insightful. Instead, their value stems from simplicity and broad applicability. And yet, set to the right music, framed by the right lyrics, like in the verse I quoted at the start of the essay, they transcend the cliché and approach something bold, courageous, or even powerful:

Be honest. Be ready to change. Do each as liberally as possible; your world might just depend on it. 

24 songs from 2019, in eight categories. (Putative overall rankings are in parentheses.)

THE COVERS

(5) Tim McGraw [Maggie Rogers]
An excellent cover reveals layers in both the original and cover versions; against that rubric, Maggie’s live version of “Tim McGraw” far exceeds expectations. It is mature and sensual; her delivery hints at experience far beyond her age. All the wilder, then, that the song was the product of Taylor’s teenage brain.

(7) Make You Feel My Love [Ben Platt and Kelly Clarkson, non-Spotify]
This “original arrangement” owes a great debt to Billy Joel’s underrated early 90s (cf. Greatest Hits, Volume 3), particularly in the melody of the first verse and the arrangement’s plodding quarter notes on the piano. While it bears all the faults of a Voice-era cover, there is a moment two minutes in, during a bridge purpose-built to make gays drop whatever they’re doing, in which Kelly Clarkson erupts into two sustained Cs and a D# that make you forget that she’s singing next to Evan Fucking Hansen. For fifteen seconds nothing else exists but Kelly Clarkson. And her voice. And love.

(17) Motivation [MUNA]
MUNA can have fun, too, folks. You listen and leave thankful the pop landscape is big enough for both MUNA and Normani. It also serves as proof that the folks behind songs like “Motivation” deserve every penny they earn.

THE EXPERIMENTS

(16) Leave (Get Out) [JoJo]
Once more, with feeling.
  
(20) Next Level Charli [Charli XCX]
A bold experiment in word painting that delivers the experiential range of a rave in under three minutes. Over a dozen verses, you get the wait, the come-up, time bleeding into itself, a sobering up, the second half of the pill kicking in, capped with a ketamine-laden slink to the finish and a ringing in your ears that lingers as you climb into bed.

(21) Shake It [Charli XCX, Big Freedia, cupcakKe, Brooke Candy, Pablo Vittar]
The queer “Monster” the world didn’t know it needed. Big Freedia wins for best verse, but there’s no topping cupcakKe’s, “I shake it like I’m tryin’ to get the oil off the bacon.”

THE ONES JUST FOR ME

(9) No Sudden Moves [Julia Nunes]
Exhibit A in the rebuttal to Aaron’s argument on Spotify algorithms.

(11) You and I [LÉON]
All gays have their own female pop star they stan despite her being utterly unknown to the rest of their friends. LÉON is that pop-star for me. (Sabrina Carpenter — we see you, Curt! — comes a close second for “Sue Me.”)

(19) Do With It [Betty Who]
Betty might have felt like an underwhelming album*, but the key change at the final chorus is how I know I’m gay. (*Or maybe it was just great?)

THE ONES I SAW LIVE

(2) Fallingwater [Maggie Rogers, live at Paradiso]
There were a few moments at concerts I caught this year in which otherwise rowdy audiences collectively keyed into the magic on stage. One such moment was the haunting final chorus of Kacey Musgraves “Merry Go Round,” which a Melkweg crowd of (mostly) middle-aged white folks joined with a monastic unease. An opposite, but equally powerful moment happened at the outro of “Fallingwater,” when all you could hear in the three-tiered venue was Maggie, and nothing else. It was a fitting end to a pitch-perfect performance that left several of the group I saw in tears, after which the crowd erupted into sustained cheers that seemed to go on forever. (She then topped that moment in the encore.) The best concert I saw this year by a mile.

(3) I Can Change [Lake Street Dive, live at Paradiso Noord]
Rachel Price displays virtuosic range during a Lake Street Dive show, and perhaps it’s the stunning musical and thematic simplicity of “I Can Change” that sets it in such stark relief from the layered arrangements and kitschy lyrics that the quintet is known for. Like “Saint Honesty,” this is an urgent, political song set in an intimate, personal frame. It shouldn’t lose its relevance anytime soon.

(8) ‘Cuz I Love You [Lizzo, live at Paradiso Noord]
This displays Lizzo the character at her most unhinged and Lizzo the singer at her most explosive and precise. (Nicki, take notes.) As a set-opener, this established the tone for a show so intimate and memorable I didn’t bother to buy tickets for her larger Amsterdam gig later in the year.

THE ONES THAT MAKE ME MOVE

(6) Cruel Summer [Taylor Swift]
Let’s focus on the magic of the final ninety seconds, which are potent pop alchemy; this bridge and chorus are her best work since “Out of the Woods” and “Style,” respectively. The song flashes its brilliance musically, structurally, and — least surprisingly for Taylor — lyrically. Listen for the tiny alterations to the harmonies in the chorus each time we hear it, the repetition of the frenetic bridge after the last chorus that propels us to the finish, and pithy, aphoristic flourishes throughout -- “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you;” “‘I love you,’ ain’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard;” “Devils roll the dice; angels roll their eyes” -- each of which deserves an award for excellence in pettiness. 

(13) Do Me [Kim Petras]

(14) Post That [Leikeli47]
To quote Alex Kain on this blog from 2017, “I cannot listen to the first 30 seconds of this song without voguing like a freak.” The lyrics are next level: thots, take notice — this will be on the test:

My bitch will get on the ground / Just to make sure the light is found
The way she make them angles hit / She like Bill Cunnigham with that shit
I mean that shot, Richard Avedon / To make look like a don, I got 
So many pieces, bitch why not / Have me a photoshoot right on the block

I put two lanes on gridlock / So I can sit in a deep squat...

THE ONES THAT MARK A MOMENT

(4) How Do You Sleep? [Sam Smith]
One could sense, perhaps, that Sam Smith was dipping their toes into new waters, waiting for a song and a vibe that best suited who they wanted to be musically in 2019 and beyond. (Forget, for a moment, the burden queer artists must feel to align their private personae with their commodotized musical identities.) While “Promises” only managed to fortify Calvin Harris as a serviceable producer of beats to clack to, and hindsight tells us “Dancing With a Stranger” was just a warm-up for Normani’s big moment, it was on “How Do You Sleep?” that Smith found the logical modulation from their earlier output. The staccato synths of the chorus — capitalized on to great effect in the video — make clear what we might have suspected all along: that even with a new way of doing things, some part of Sam still wants to give it to you old way.

(10) Don’t Start Now [Dua Lipa]
The white gays who sold short on Dua Lipa should be eating their humble pie about now, but for the fact that they’re exactly the type of people who never say, “I’m sorry; I was wrong.”

(12) imagine [Ariana Grande]
Contents of the first verse of the thank u, next era: tour busses, private cars, midnight pad thai, champagne, and bathtub photoshoots. Which begs the question:

Why can’t you / imagine a world like that?

THE ONES THAT MAKE ME FEEL MY AGE

(1) Saint Honesty [Sara Bareilles]
Armor, which racked up a string of above average reviews but no hit single, is a protest album cloaked as easy listening. It reaches its lyrical and musical pinnacle in this secular gospel to the powers of truth seeking (and telling). 

Structurally, “Saint Honesty” adheres to the template of the wildly successful Waitress ballad, “She Used To Be Mine,” and uses a metaphor — water as cleansing truth — that is, to put it mildly, well-worn. (Remember Hillary Duff’s “Come Clean?”) Rather, it’s Bareilles’ execution of that metaphor that elevates this to the upper echelons of her output. The lyrics set up Old Testament-level stakes that sit in contrast to the major key, acknowledging that the salvation (promised in a morning the song never describes) will not arrive without collateral damage. The production amplifies the theme further, with Bareilles having recorded the track in a single, four-and-a-half minute take, her powerhouse vocals equally emotive at the bottom of her register as when she belts. Combined, this yields a piece of artistry that is ambitious without being flashy, a gem waiting to be found by those not looking for it. Far and away my favorite song of the year.

(15) When I Wasn’t Watching [Mandy Moore]
I described this to friends as, “Lisa Loeb meets Sara Bareilles meets ‘Gypsy’-era Stevie Nicks.” Ian Mathers at The Singles Jukebox did a better job:

Most people, if we live long enough, have a moment where we realize what we’ve become when we were doing something else, and it’s usually neither euphoria nor disaster; it’s more like this.

This song is the rare thing that makes me miss living in New York; philosophizing seems so much easier set to music, and while driving north along the Hudson River.

(18) Lingerie [Lizzo]
Lizzo knows how to end an album. “Lingerie” is a fun-riff on and amplification of the self-love message of the closing, eponymous track of her 2016 EP, Coconut Oil.

“Lingerie” works on its surface as a retelling of Lizzo’s getting prettied up before her man brings her, one key change at a time, towards climax. But it earns bonus points for operating several other levels: for the credible interpretation, based on the subdued final chorus, that it all took place in Lizzo’s head, and for the reading of the track as a comment on the dueling excitement and inconvenience that come with preparing for appointment sex. (To that end, “I wanna be prepared for you just in case,” will soon be the tagline for a Pure For Men ad campaign.)

BONUS: THE DUTCH ONES

Hij Is Van Mij [Kriss Kross Amsterdam, Tabitha, Maan]
Proof time is a flat circle: in 2019, Tabitha and Maan released a pop-R&B song called, literally, “The Boy Is Mine,” assisted by a hip hop artist named Kriss Kross.

Regen [Frenna feat. Bløf]
A Dutch “Started From The Bottom,” with a chorus repurposed from an old hit by the Dutch Phil Collins.

Arcade [Duncan Laurence]
Europe’s best pop song — officially. Let’s meet next year in Rotterdam!