Unlike the best movies and TV shows of the year, where the release of genuinely good entertainment feels finite, the amount of great, new music is endless. It's just about finding it. So, after deep-diving across release platforms, scouring the charts, looking into the most interesting, emerging names, and returning to classic, fan-favorite artists, we bring you the best songs of 2019. Once you get sick of hitting repeat on the best songs of 2018, see below for the best new releases of this year, and be sure to check back, as we'll be updating this list all year long.
These are the 3 Biggest Power Plays that Won Bran the 'Game of Thrones'
"Morrow," 070 Shake
New Jersey rapper 070 Shake seemed to come out of virtually nowhere just a few years back, still in her teens. Now 21, the artist, whose real name is Danielle Balbuena, produces woozy, alt raps that caught the attention of Kanye West, garnering a contract with his Def Jam imprint Getting Out Our Dreams and an appearance on 2018's Ye, as well as a handful of other strong features, on top of her own even stronger singles. In 2018, 070 Shake released her debut EP Glitter, and is continuing her ascension into 2019 with the track "Morrow." She described the single as "one to cry to," which is a fair assessment, as the wallowing song explores the paranoia of focusing on a relationship's fate ("I know it’s hard to swallow / I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow"). An interesting name in rap for her taste in sound, 070 Shake’s deep, radiant voice mixes well with the low, downbeat production and chilling sonic elements.
"King James," Anderson .Paak
Recording artist and producer Anderson .Paak has been busy in the studio, firing out joyful, funkified R&B and hip-hop jams in the past several years. He’s nowhere near coming off this high, already onto his next release, Ventura, just several months after last year’s Oxnard. "King James," the first single off his upcoming fourth record, is a jazzy, infectious track with rich percussion and brass that salutes basketball stud LeBron James for his philanthropy. Largely, though, the song refers to the current political climate ("If they build a wall, let's jump the fence, I'm over this") and suggests we join his sonic and ideological soul train of love and optimism, looking into the future at the "movement we've been groovin' on" -- which, if you have any sense of heart and rhythm, feels inevitable when listening.
"NASA," Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande promised fans that six months after releasing Sweetener, she’d be back with more music, and the pop star came through with the recent, dropped overnight thank u, next. For many reasons (tragedy, public relationships, major albums), pop has really become Ariana’s universe that we’ve all just been living in, and "NASA," her latest single off of thank u, next, takes us out of this world with a cheeky outer-space song about needing distance, but even its sound is too grand for this stratosphere. Its R&B production and the composition of synths and bass may not sound atmospherically cosmological, but it is her new signature and exemplifies the influence of her individual satellite on the industry. At the beginning of the track, you can faintly hear, "This is one small step for woman, one giant leap for woman-kind" -- of "NASA," of thank u, next, of Ariana and all that she’s been up to, it's the truth.
"Dylan Thomas," Better Oblivion Community Center
In January, modern folk favorites Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst combined forces and surprised fans with a duo project titled Better Oblivion Community Center. Wrapped in their shared folk rock of empathetic songwriting, the project is entwined in their togetherness while exploring their individual experiences feeling unavoidably alone. One of these numbers is "Dylan Thomas," an admittedly more up-beat track on the record with its bursting, twangy guitar solos and lyrics written in witticism about the gravity of feeling helpless in the current political landscape. In harmony they sing, "I’m getting greedy with this private hell / I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well," and despite how insular they sound, in the subtly humorous song there’s reassurance knowing many of us are fighting the same fight.
"Xanny," Billie Eilish
Alt-pop prodigy Billie Eilish is an anomaly to anybody outside of Gen Z, but the 17-year-old has quietly become one of the biggest pop stars in the world with her depressingly dark music, while embracing an aggressively hypebeast/meme-able persona. This may seem like all the reason to write her off -- but her young audience, who connect to her vulnerable and frank lyrics, is onto something. Eilish is a raw force, possibly the new voice of a generation. "Xanny," off her debut record WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, epitomizes her writing prowess in a song dissecting her weakness in the face of her peers’ drug use. Her hushed voice sways tragically with a reverberating bass that feeds in and out, and her brutal words ("I can’t afford to love someone who isn’t dying by mistake in Silver Lake") will make you crumble. "Xanny" intoxicates, and shows there’s no blowing away the smoke around Eilish’s emerging popularity.
"Crow's Perch," black midi
London’s black midi are one of the buzziest bands in the UK despite having only released three songs. Their post-punk/noise/jazz/mind-altering music ignited an energy in the London underground, and on their latest trip to Austin, Texas, they raked in more than a few "best sets at SXSW" superlatives, positioning them to be one of the biggest breakout acts that only the coolest know about within the year. Their latest track, "Crow's Perch," walks the line of post-punk and art-rock, refusing to remain still. Anxious guitars bounce erratically under rapping, and as off as it all sounds, it’s extremely exciting. "Crow’s Perch" ends in a moment of insanity, which sounds a bit like the frenzy poised to develop around the band -- because, as you can hear, they’re doing something more interesting than the rest.
"Silent Ride," Boogie
After years of singing in the church choir and independently producing mixtapes under the moniker Boogie, Compton-based rapper Anthony Dixson and his viral successes warranted a co-sign from Eminem and a deal with Shady Records. The recording artist's first official LP, Everything's for Sale, features a number of mesmerizing rap tracks, led by the entrancing single "Silent Ride." With a sing-song delivery that dynamically picks up in pace, Boogie talks about wrestling with inner demons and that ruthless voice that haunts your head. The stripped-down, Heaven-esque production feels on trend with rap's recent gospel kick, which entered the mainstream thanks to the popularity of Chance the Rapper, but the song stands out next to the major label-produced trap flooding the airwaves, making the rapper one to watch.
"Daylight Matters," Cate le Bon
Often from behind the scenes, Welsh singer-songwriter Cate le Bon has become an essential name in indie, producing major albums for artists like Deerhunter while recording stunning krautrock-inspired music of her own. "Daylight Matters," the lead single from her solo album Reward, illustrates the breadth of her talent, while moving into a pop-minded, almost jazzy realm from behind the piano. The track casts you under a mournful veil with the simple chorus, "I love you, I love you, I love you, but you’re not here," and its atmospheric sound only pushes you further into a longing, quizzical headspace. But it doesn't feel weary, just a gentle embodiment of reflection.
Through their dance-infused punk music, the four women who make up the Japanese band CHAI set out to redefine the concept of "kawaii," or Japan's perception of cuteness. To CHAI, which deviates from the increasingly internationally popular J-Pop style by embracing louder, art-rock sounds, everybody is cute in their own way, whether they're conventionally attractive or not (the latter being especially embraced). CHAI represents this vision both sonically and with their attitude, and the group's latest song, "Fashionista," is perhaps the greatest example of that. With its percussion, funky bass, and stylish tone, "Fashionista" literally sounds like music for the runway, but only if that catwalk were to feature the most avant garde fashions. Just as anybody can be cute, anybody can be a fashionista -- and CHAI's sweet harmonies on this fun single should have you feeling like anything's possible, too.
"Blame It On Your Love," Charli XCX feat. Lizzo
Charli XCX should be the biggest pop star in the world. Carving out her own path from the London underground to a behind-the-scenes songwriter before dropping her own releases with assists from groundbreaking names, she's one of the most original artists in pop, outlining what the future should sound like. Her first album in five years, Charli, is finally on the way (out September 13) after a series of mixtapes, and its lead single, "Blame It On Your Love," is a vivacious dancehall track. It's a reworking of Pop 2 mixtape song "Track 10," turning it into a more accessible, twinkling radio hit with a quippy verse from Lizzo (who is also making huge strides in her own right). It shows her direction as an artist -- refusing to compromise her taste for the bold and strange -- but an introduction to herself to the masses that it's about time that the best in pop is also the biggest name in the game.
"Chatroom," Charly Bliss
Brooklyn's Charly Bliss is like scuzzy '90s alt that’s been candied; the group’s front woman Eva Hendricks makes it especially sweet, having one of the most identifiable, girlish voices in alt rock today. Although despite making power pop, and tapping into pop mentality even more on their album Young Enough, there’s a ferocity there. Their "Chatroom" is an example of this exuberance: a youthful track of loud drums and guitars that climax at a moment of anger turned into no-fucks-left-to-give, a reflection of what Hendricks said she personally felt following a toxic relationship and experience of sexual assault. You hear this shift in emotion in the growing song, its repetitive chorus so catchy you sense it in your soul that it's always possible to bite through the sour.
"Wasted Nun," Cherry Glazerr
There's been an absence of sticky, sweet indie rock in recent memory -- the kind that mixes harsh, danceable guitar riffs with a harsh crunch. Cherry Glazerr, the fiery, garage LA output, fills that void, and Stuffed & Ready track "Wasted Nun" finds frontwoman Clementine Creevy singing about feminine exhaustion over red hot, exuberant guitars. The song personifies the wasted feeling of being a young woman -- overlooked, but with expectations thrust upon her. It's maddening, but in a dynamic way that feels all too familiar.
"Time Rider," Chromatics
Contemporary noise/synth-pop purveyors Chromatics have amassed a cult following since their early 2000s debut, their songs both transforming electro-pop while soundtracking a handful of films. But when the group’s producer Johnny Jewel began teasing their fifth record, Dear Tommy, in 2014, fans have been uncertain of when they might hear more. After literally destroying all physical copies of what would have been their new record to reinvent the project and the release of last year’s "Black Walls," the group is back again with "Time Rider." Vocalist Ruth Radelet’s soft voice chills over a track that grows with each expansive synthesizer, and as she sings, "Can I take your hand? I want to ride with you into the storm," an almost automotive sound swirls around you. Waiting for new Chromatics may have felt as if we were frozen in time, but it really sounds like the group was busy traveling across eons in order to curate the fashionable future music we need.
"Path," Club Night
Club Night may be composed of seasoned musicians from the Oakland DIY scene, but they arguably sound like a group of kindergarteners bashing on a set of classroom instruments -- in a good way. The indie noise band sounds especially pure and entrancing when meshed with the frantic. Off their full-length debut, What Life, "Path" is odd and intensifying, featuring riffs that gently play before crashing and burning to be one in the same with lead singer Josh Bertram’s boyish howl. Like the lessons we learn when we’re small that sometimes get lost growing up, Bertram exclaims, "We need an education, compassion, or shred of empathy," making "Path" a boisterous call from this band-to-watch to always be kind.
The Brooklyn-based band Crumb occupies a landscape of their own, somewhere between jazz and psych-rock. While the group was originally a way for vocalist Lila Ramani to turn her personal high school musings into professionally recorded tracks, they’ve since toured non-stop and are now riding the release of their first album, Jinx. Their single "Nina" perfectly embodies the band's magnetism, with its engrossing synthesizers, elongated vocal tracks, and trippy guitars wrapping you in a neo-jazz dream. With "Nina" (and all their songs), Crumb takes you to another realm.
The superlative for one of the sweetest songs of 2019 goes to Dehd, a surf rock trio from Chicago made up of scene natives who previously lent their talents to bands like NE-HI and Lala Lala. Beginning with the line, "Lucky to have people in my life with the power to break my heart," Dehd can fill you up with butterflies. That feeling persists, the scuzzed out surf sounds mirroring what it feels like the settle into the unpredictable anxiety of a new crush. Their lyrics may come off as indifferent at times, eager to hold onto what they’ve found ("I long to be lucky"), but in each yearning guitar tone, you can free yourself of doubt because, in Dehd, love is alive.
"SPEEDBOAT," Denzel Curry
South Florida rapper Denzel Curry has arrived. The recording artist released a series of records within the past few years and made a name for himself in the Miami scene and beyond, but now with his latest album ZUU, he's committed to showing fans what the South is all about. "SPEEDBOAT" blazes like the Florida sun, a meditation on how volatile his scene is. Breezing through lines about luxurious aspirations and friends dying too young over a sampled piano, the track is arguably on Curry's softer side, but encapsulates his hometown experience all too well. And that anthemic chorus singing, "Jesus, please deliver us from evil / please pray over all my people," will have you ascending, finding God even in the Sunshine State.
"Hanging out of Cars," Empath
There’s a near-universal exuberance in speeding down the freeway, sitting beside someone you love. It never ceases to go away when you’re young, with every car ride feeling as if it's is the first one since you’d gotten your license. In "Hanging out of Cars," from Philly-based four-piece Empath’s debut LP, Active Listening: Night On Earth, the group epitomizes this experience through their jittery, harmony-rich noise-pop. Empath, who have quickly become a staple in the percolating Philly noise-rock scene, envelops you in loud, fuzzed out sounds before they fade out to fill space with strange, cinematic production. The track and this gripping group are dying to pierce your speakers as if you're a teenager tracing your hometown highways once again.
"Cellophane," FKA twigs
Sometimes it's the simplest songs that make our heart feel the heaviest, their lyrics carrying the exasperated weight of a final sigh after a long sob. It's what British electronic recording artist/producer/dancer FKA twigs does and more on "Cellophane," her first solo release since 2016’s "Good to Love." At its core, the single is a piano ballad examining the demise of her relationship with Robert Pattinson, a romance that propelled her into the public eye and was exposed as if it was shrink wrapped in plastic. She'll take away your breath away in each of her airy gasps, desperate to understand what went wrong as she repeats the minimal verse that, even so, is complex to digest: "Didn't I do it for you? Why don't I do it for you?" She may express not feeling enough on this track, but as an artist of this caliber, you can also sense her power that she can withstand anything.
Girlpool’s "Pretty" from this year’s What Chaos Is Imaginary is a lovely, slow burning ditty. And despite its title, it's like it's based in the "un-pretty," how it can feel going through days void of dreaming and making an idol of someone who you ultimately come to realize is "pretty broken." When vocalist Harmony Tividad sings, "I’m not a dreamer in their prime / I’m consistently not worth your time" amidst the rest of her stream of consciousness lyrics in tandem with the group’s dancing, lo-fi signature, you can feel your heart go from light to an incendiary burn. It's how one often feels listening to the poetic emo group whose rooted in the collaboration of its core duo, Tividad and Cleo Tucker, even on their recent release as they've begun largely singing separately since Tucker came out as transgender. But like the whole record, on this song where they search to "understand what this sadness means," you sure can hear them find the prettiness in this mess.
"Stay With Me," Hatchie
Nothing sounds quite as lush as Australian shoegaze artist Hatchie. Harriette Pilbeam produces dream pop that oozes romanticism in the form of crystalline guitar and synth tones. The singer/songwriter from down under has quickly become the "it girl" of the genre since the 2018 release of her Sugar & Spice EP, and her debut album Keepsake, out June 21, is one of the most highly anticipated indie releases of the year. "Stay With Me," a single off the forthcoming record, shimmers with its disco-clad vibe, as if it’s meant to be cried over in the club. Synthesizers and Hatchie's hushed, yearning voice make "Stay With Me" euphoric, even as she recalls a romance she's ended. The track makes you come undone with her, in the best way possible.
"Please Won't Please," Helado Negro
In his project Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange makes what sounds like liquidized folk music. It’s slow and pulpy; electronic music made restful that you want to sit with for a while. On "Please Won’t Please," off his recent, tender album This Is How You Smile, the recording artist makes this mellow place a world worth soaring in. His soft voice in tandem with warm synthesizers, Lange sounds golden, like the strength of his Latinx background, singing powerful verses like, "Lifelong history shows that brown won’t go, brown just glows," an ode to his Ecuadorian immigrant parents and cultural history. The track glows, too.
"Sky So Blue," Hot Flash Heat Wave
On "Sky So Blue," Bay Area indie pop group Hot Flash Heat Wave sounds brighter than ever, crafting a sonic representation of finding yourself in a lovelorn daze. With its varied psychedelics, the track transitions from sprawling synthesizers to fast-paced beats resonant of energized heart palpitations, chronicling falling deeper and deeper into feelings that can only be explained as lost in love. Over five and a half minutes, you'll lose yourself in their glistening, late afternoon daydream.
"ZORA," Jamila Woods
Like she sings on the single “ZORA,” Chicago-based soul artist Jamila Woods' "weaponry is [her] energy." Her music creates a universe of its own, expanded upon her poetry about the beauty in blackness and inhabits a sound that spans R&B to go into a dimension parallel to Afrofuturism, growing in R&B since her 2017 debut and catching the attention of other Chicago names like Chance the Rapper. On this year's LEGACY! LEGACY!, she pays homage to the black artists that inform her work, naming each track after them, like author Zora Neale Hurston on "ZORA." The track glistens with keys entwined with strings, as so does Woods, singing with warm confidence as if she's taken on the unapologetic spirit of the late-great writer. When she delivers the line, "I dare you to shrink my wave, I'm on a new plane," it's as if she's singing from the elevated plane of existence that she and Hurston exist on, and one can only imagine how enchanting it must be if it sounds this good.
"Heads Gonna Roll," Jenny Lewis
It’s as if indie rock icon Jenny Lewis ran into you, a former dear friend and lover, at a dive bar along the highway in "Heads Gonna Roll," a track off her recent album On The Line. You can almost see the songwriter smiling at you from across the bar with a tear in her eye before she decides to pull up a stool up beside you to revisit all of your distant, fond memories kissing in graveyards and disagreeing about everything "from Elliott Smith to Grenadine." The song is a masterclass in songwriting, telling a story so very intimately through specificity, Lewis’ forlorn voice somehow conveying a closeness only true friends can offer. With its twangy guitar solos and slinky, stretched out tone, the longtime indie darling sounds like a country star on horseback riding into the sunset -- the proper legacy status the former Rilo Kiley singer deserves.
"Big Wheels," Kevin Abstract
The only flaw of Kevin Abstract’s "Big Wheels" is that it comes in at a measly minute and 40 seconds. The LA-transplanted rapper who heads the rap collective and self-proclaimed boy band BROCKHAMPTON has been bringing a flare to the genre and developed a following of fan boys and girls of his own based on his distinctive, queer introspection and poppy production. It may be short, but "Big Wheels," off his surprise album ARIZONA baby, which he’s slowly rolling out over a period of time and is co-produced by Jack Antonoff, shows just how much he's destined for stardom. Even more based in hip-hop than his debut record American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, he spits several fast, heart-wrenching verses of his guilt amid his success ("Got a lot of guilt inside of me / My niggas back home ain't proud of me / They think I'm a bitch, just queerbaitin'"), and then as the song hits a pinnacle, its cosmological production evolves into a slinked out jazz. You're lost in the enamoring moment, as Abstract feels lost in his fame (that he so very well deserves).
"Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have, But I Have It," Lana Del Rey
It may seem as if Lana Del Rey, plagued by loneliness, feels like no one understands her besides the literary icons she prays to, but in reality, the songwriter knows she mirrors the timeless experience of the melancholic modern woman. Like the subjects of Sofia Coppola movies or Sylvia Plath's writings (the latter's name dropped in the track), her latest single, off the forthcoming Norman Fucking Rockwell, is an ode to this side of her and the unsatisfied, emotive woman yearning for more out of life. But as somber as the self-referential piano ballad is, she has hope that this apathy isn't everlasting, and as desperate as she sounds, you believe her. Simply put: This is pinnacle Lana Del Rey, and that's a beautiful thing.
Giddy up -- because the yeehaw agenda said, "This town ain’t big enough for the two of us," and has proceeded to take over culture. And this breakout track from Soundcloud rapper turned major-label-signee Lil Nas X is the soundtrack to the internet-dubbed "yeehaw agenda." The rap/country track may have sparked controversy after Billboard removed it from the country charts, but that prompted country mainstay Billy Ray Cyrus to offer an assist on several verses, and also the internet to adamantly lend its support of the song -- as it should based on the track's certified hook. This daunting bass made for outlaws, and with the contrast to its cheeky Western lyrics, "Old Town Road" is exactly what should play as you gallop on your steed right out the ranch.
"Free Uzi," Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert is free! The 24-year-old emocore rapper declared he was forced to retire in early 2019 due to conflicts with his former label, but he’s since struck a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc Nation, announcing his much-anticipated return with the aptly titled "Free Uzi." The track reminds its listeners how the young talent lit a fire that never stopped burning, his delivery so rapid it's hard to keep up with his snarky verses; the muted production only feeds into the level that he’s on. "Free Uzi" is right, because it would be a crime not to hear more from the young rapper who's turning the genre temptingly dark.
Self-love anthems are a constant of pop music... but no one does self-love quite like Minneapolis-bred rapper Lizzo. In her first single from Cuz I Love You, "Juice," the sing-song hip-hop artist unapologetically touts how incredible she is, and she makes the case to give you every reason to believe she's telling the truth. Over a nostalgic, soulful funk beat, her track takes you back to the most indulgent of eras with its '70s stylings, further informing its decadence and convincing you, too, to let go. Like Lizzo, leave the boys in the DMs and instead fall for the woman in the mirror, and parade her out on the dance floor. With quips like "I'm not a snack at all, baby, I'm the whole damn meal," she may well inspire this kind of confidence in us all.
"Burning," Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers, a folk-pop phenom who ascent into the ether with her viral success over the past three years, it seems wants to reclaim her narrative. Her name has been attached to Pharrell’s since the virtuoso played the recording artist one of her songs at an NYU workshop in 2016 and he adopted her as a mentor. But the singer, who dances with the cosmos in her lyrics like a 21st century Stevie Nicks and plays with electronic production with an ear for streaming success, should be heard as her own. And on her debut album Heard It In a Past Life track “Burning,” she’s on fire. The back track of jovial percussion feels primed for a festival finale song, but its in Rogers’ joyous delivery of being woken up, in a conscious state of living, that she’s heard as the bright name in pop that she is. In “Burning,” she’s lit a spark, and you’ll feel it too.
"Drunk II," Mannequin Pussy
Those with a hardened exterior are used to people asking how we're able to keep it all together. But in reality, everybody breaks at least a little when shit hits the fan, and some of us are just better at wearing a collected mask. This is what Philly noise/punk band Mannequin Pussy wrestles with on the lead single "Drunk II" off their forthcoming record Patience, out June 21. The stellar song sounds like hysteria as riffs flail ecstatically, harmonies are increasingly layered, and vocalist Marisa Dabice transitions from escapist wailings to the penultimate, revealing line, "And everyone says to me, 'Missy, you're so strong,' but what if I don’t want to be?" On "Drunk II," the loud band who continues to stun is that internal conflict personified, a sonic journey of how insane and debilitating it can feel to let go and truly engage with what's going on inside.
"Mother's Daughter," Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus is a pop star who's hard to pin down. The Nashville girl rose to fame portraying bubble gum artist Hannah Montana, which inadvertently blurred her own identity and taste -- one tinged by a country twang and love for pop and hip-hop. Her releases have jumped around, from hip-hop to rock experimentation, and more, which she's gotten a fair amount of criticism for -- but it sounds like her forthcoming album, She Is Miley Cyrus, is an effort expounding on all the iterations of herself. "Mother's Daughter," the lead single off one of the three EPs she's releasing as a part of the album rollout, is the singer's rock opus. She's declaring how strong of a woman she is, a sentiment that's been drilled into her by her mother, even if that means she's defiant and a bit nasty. Produced by frequent collaborator Mike Will Made It, rap production may streamline the track, but sung in her rasp, this is her version of a radio rock anthem in 2019.
"In Your Head," Nilüfer Yanya
On her debut album Miss Universe, London-based singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya plays the role of mental health phone operator. Yanya, who grew up a classically trained musician and was fervently pursued by the industry following several buzzy Soundcloud releases, kicks off her semi-concept album by introducing it as a hotline for the fictional "WWAY HEALTH," where she will be on the other line, caring for your deepest concerns. But her means of being a receptive therapist is to reveal to you her own scattered anxieties, like in the first official album track, "In Your Head." Over excitable pop rock and the sparkling electric guitar that she wields so well, Yanya worries her feelings are nothing more than projections, her spiraling out of control. This is what makes the rising pop singer "Miss Universe" -- we sense and identify with all of her hysteria, which just so happens to be impeccably paired with a spritely new wave beat.
"Song 32," Noname
In her music, you can hear how Chicago-rapper Noname draws heavily from her background in slam poetry. On "Song 32," she lays down her verses with a spoken-word clarity and stamina, and even pays ode to her rise declaring, "Started getting money from writing the haiku." The recording artist has long been a Chicago staple, having worked with Chance the Rapper before breaking through last year with her triumphant record Room 25. With each release, Noname illustrates she's rapidly ascending to the title of one of rap's bests. The new track in particular follows a chilled out, hypnotizing jazz-influenced rhythm with a slight reggae influence, but her lyrics about colonialism and her personal journey to success expressed are what truly stands out. After the song builds, she repeats the line, "I’m America at its best," and you'd be a fool not to believe her.
It can be a long journey to feel deserving of love. It's something Boston's Ellen Kempner, who makes music as Palehound, recognizes the pain in irrational thinking through the most earnest of means in "Worthy," the recent single from her recent album Black Friday. The lo-fi artist does what she does best on the song, her Elliot Smith-esque mumble and alt-country guitar tones the perfect relay for this form of reflection. She may be singing about the cruelty one can spew at themselves, but in her poeticism you recognize that hopefully love will one day convince that feeling to subside.
"The Seduction of Kansas," Priests
After the 2016 election, a handful of mainstream media outlets responded to the results by launching a series of stories exploring the "plight" and demands of conservative middle America. Now, the rock band Priests is doing the same on their new record The Seduction of Kansas -- except to them it's more of a confounding sickness than something worth rationalizing. The DC-based band grew out of punk, and holds onto this political attitude still in their work, though has a leniency for modern art rock, which can be heard delightfully in their album title track. Built on eerie disco elements and cultural references sung sneeringly by vocalist Katie Alice Greer, the song is a campy attack on the heartland. This is the music of the resistance that's meant to be remembered.
Toronto punks PUP never got over teenage angst. Instead, the four-piece band, who've been putting out solid punk albums since 2013, just keep getting angrier with age. On the lead single off their third full-length effort, Morbid Stuff, frontman Stefan Babcock begins wailing, "Just like the kids, I’ve been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence." It’s like he settled into an attitude at 16, and decided it was well-suited to the music PUP makes; the reverb and raucous drums also create a chaotic, feverish tone throughout the track. But one thing you should know about PUP is that no matter how cranky and pent up their guitars sound, it’s a goddamn good time. On "Kids" and much of Morbid Stuff, it’s about finding someone who's just as angry as you ("I don’t care about nothing but you") -- an admittedly less horrible experience than wallowing in isolation. It stings, but there’s joy here too.
"Hatin," Rico Nasty, Kenny Beats
DC rapper Rico Nasty knows she's an icon on the rise -- her dually aggressive and sweet raps and bold energy are too big to keep down. Shortly after releasing last year's excellent major label debut Nasty, the recording artist is back with another mixtape, Anger Management, this time a collaboration with frequent partner and trending producer Kenny Beats, who's lent his talents to acts like JPEGMAFIA and Vince Staples. Her vocal prowess and feminine rage shine especially on "Hatin," a track that unapologetically samples JAY-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." Her signature rasp is as domineering as ever, as she even hilariously flips the samples' chorus, spitting, "If you're feeling like a boss bitch, go." No man will hold her back from reaching the top.
"Con Altura" (feat. El Guincho), Rosalía and J Balvin
Some of the most popular up-and-coming hitmakers with powerhouse potential are rapidly crossing geographical and genre borders, and Spain’s Rosalía certainly fits that mold. The Latin-Grammy-winning Best New Artist paved her own lane, transforming flamenco music for today with a touch of R&B, and for her latest single "Con Altura," she immerses that sound in reggaeton with the assistance of Colombian artist and reigning crossover star J Balvin. Over a pulsating beat, Rosalía’s wispily fierce voice alternates verses with a confident Balvin to make for a thrilling, flirtatious track. Just let the seductive production and deep bass inevitably turn your hips into a swivel -- you won't be able to resist Rosalía.
"Lasting Friend," Samia
It’s a self-destructive habit women often have: measuring their self-worth based on their relationships with men or their sexual history. While some women take ownership of their choices, as well they should, for others it's more complex, like something to make light of or mask. Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Samia, going by the lyrics to "Lasting Friend," a '90s-Liz Phair-ish number about how she used to let boys touch her boobs at lunchtime in middle school, wavers somewhere between the two. "Lasting Friend," meanwhile, is just one of the up-and-coming artist's anthems; she has been breathing energy into the Brooklyn rock scene of late with her vivacious, witty personality and poeticism. I strongly recommend that your remember her name: Samia is positioned to be one of our next great songwriters.
You may not know her name yet, but it’s possible you’ve heard SASAMI before. The LA-based multi-instrumentalist’s work is all over the records of contemporary indie staples like Cherry Glazerr, Vagabond, and Wild Nothing, but now it’s time for her own synth-wielding, dream pop debut. SASAMI finds her power in gentleness, in sonic moments that could be overlooked, but instead strike like lightning, and in the softness of her voice singing of brokenness. Her debut album song "Free" (featuring harmonies from songwriter Devendra Banhart) may sound simple and quiet, but it carries weight, like in the reverberated guitar moments echoing the demise of a relationship from the lyrics. And as solemnly soft as the track seems, SASAMI proves that sometimes things must end for us to feel free; ultimately, she sounds at peace.
"Numb Numb Juice," ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q’s got a list of grievances. It may have been a minute since the Kendrick Lamar collaborator and core TDE signee released solo work (2016’s career-defining Blank Face), but that doesn’t mean the introspective, fierce LA rapper’s run out of things to say. In fact, on this year’s "Numb Numb Juice," he’s riffing on that "bitch shit" he can’t stand, be it other men talking smack about women or refusing to support the efforts of up-and-coming hip-hop contemporaries. In less than two minutes, he slides in and out of aggrieved rapping to a thrilling sing-song made menacing by a daunting bass in the background. You wish he’d keep on bitching, and it would never end.
"Seventeen," Sharon Van Etten
Singer-songwriters hailing from NYC have long lamented about the painful changes of their beloved urban jungle. On "Seventeen," off her early 2019 record Remind Me Tomorrow, modern folk star Sharon Van Etten contributes to this tradition. Her smokey voice sounds reflective, forlorn over how the streets she used to strut so self-assured now look, and the Springsteen-esque rock track only further plays into its nostalgia. But Van Etten, whose become somewhat of an indie legend, recognizes that the legacy of New York is that it belongs to all who grace it, like a circadian rhythm that a new slew of 17-year-olds will occupy the same block she once felt as if she owned ("I used to fee free, was it just a dream? / Now you’re half shy, thank you’re so carefree / But you’re just seventeen, so much like me").
"Downhill Lullaby," Sky Ferreira
After six years that felt like an eternity since the release of Night Time, My Time, Sky Ferreira is back. The alternative pop artist released her debut album to much acclaim back in 2013, but hit label roadblock after roadblock during the production of her sophomore effort. Now with "Downhill Lullaby," she’s arrived and surely here to cast a spell on us all again. The eerie track follows a violin that sounds like it’s drawn from a dark fairytale, and Ferreira’s voice is weighed low with a haunting bass, marking a transition for the singer from her new wave space to somewhere much more gothic. In a way, it sounds as if she’s made a deal with the devil, refusing to sacrifice her artistic integrity, and now as the princess of the underworld, she’s dragging listeners down with her -- and this is a journey we should all be dying to take.
Without a peep of warning, Solange dropped her first release, When I Get Home, since her magnum opus of a record, 2016’s A Seat at the Table. Where the R&B singer illustrated her self-assurance on her last album, here, she metaphorically takes us to Houston, the place that shaped her, to exemplify even further how the black community shines and informs her art. "Almeda," a markedly faster song for the downbeat recording artist, plays like chilled-out '90s rap from her and featured artist Playboi Carti, preaching her hometown’s resilience ("Black faith still can’t be washed away / Not even in that Florida water"). It could be a hymn in a Southern church, or just as likely blow out speakers from cars passing by with the windows down; the track is an extremely hot celebration.
"Hell Boy," SWMRS
It’s hard not to feel sick when listening to pop punk band SWMRS’ “Hell Boy.” But beginning with the shock-factor line, “Charlie Manson is alright,” that’s the point. They may go on to sing, “At least old Charlie took the blame for all the violence we committed in his name,” but in the lyrics the Oakland-based band grown out of the collaboration between Cole Becker and Joey Armstrong (yes, son of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong) proclaims there's always been a virus of toxic masculinity infecting American boys, and they feel ill that it finds remedy in blaming victims rather than themselves. The track is the loudest deep cut on their album Berkeley’s On Fire, a pop-minded commentary on gentrification and politics in their hometown, and being in touch with their punkish roots, it’s damn good. Amidst the devilish guitar solos and aggressive lyrics, you may want to hurl, but just dance though the pain like people have done for decades and hope SWMRS’ self-awareness permeates the culture.
"Patience," Tame Impala
After stints producing for the likes of Kanye West and Travis Scott, Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker finally lent his talents back to the psychedelic Aussie group that started it all for him. The band's first release since 2015’s Currents, "Patience" is just as pop-minded as the perfectionist album that catapulted them to mainstream success (and caught Rihanna’s attention), albeit a strange reentry now that the band has caught the world’s attention. Trading guitars for piano and bongos, one could imagine the track lighting up the dance floor on a singles' cruise, but its disco intonations are a true joy to surrender yourself to. Sure, cyclically lamenting about the passage of time and its weight on you as an artist is what you do when you’re a chill Australian group who became one of the biggest bands in the world, but Parker’s ingenue remains in the song’s production, and it’s well worth the wait to see how his calculations can dazzle on their next record.
"Only Child," Tierra Whack
Tierra Whack is one of (if not, the) most innovative names in hip-hop right now. The Philly-bred rapper flips her songs into a sort of alt-pop art, infusing her backing tracks with boisterous, cartoonish qualities. Rarely does she fail to take her greater aesthetic into consideration: For instance, her debut album Whack World, was a 15-minute visual album odyssey inviting others into her obscure world. Her latest single, "Only Child," is just as interesting and continues to classify the rapper as a bold name in music; on the track, she stresses she has no time for people with only child syndrome, smartly sing-song rapping about the inherit coldness of those who "think about nobody but yourself." Over the stripped-down production of childlike, warped keys, Whack’s lyricism and her artful voice shines, and even as she’s putting you in your place, Tierra Whack is always a treat to hear.
"I THINK," Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator has steadily risen from alt-rap collective Odd Future's elusive leader to a bona fide, game-changing creative with the No. 1 record in the world. While the rapper/singer/producer/designer's last several records struck a chord with critics and further solidified his amassed cultish following, this year's IGOR, which essentially arrived as a surprise drop, is his crowning achievement. On the record, he takes on a persona to ease the pain of a break up, while simultaneously feeling most joyously himself as he explains he knows you can find love again. Its track "I THINK" is the love song of the year, a rap song that transverses genre with production that sounds as if it's pulled deep from R&B archives. He sings that he thinks he's found love, and there's nothing in the song to lead you to believe otherwise.
"This Life," Vampire Weekend
After a five-year break and lots of speculation, Vampire Weekend finally returned (sans founding member Rostam Batmanglij) with their excellent double record Father of the Bride. Though the album is full of certified bops that will surely transport you back to the innocent days of when you first fell for the band, "This Life" encapsulates the group at their prime. The song at first listen sounds resonant of "Brown Eyed Girl" and holds the same acoustic levity of a Van Morrison song, though it dances with duality: the kind of baroque tune you'd expect from Vampire Weekend while exploring the unfortunate simplicity of a relationship running its course… and life doing just the same. It's delightful and cynical, the witty self-criticism frontman Ezra Koenig does best. And while the band may have drilled into fans the hysterics of mortality and the passage of time over the course of their discography, another truth of this life is that Vampire Weekend is forever a comfort.
"Are You Bored Yet? (feat. Clairo)," Wallows
In spring 2017, LA-based indie rock band Wallows blew up after sharing their first-ever single "Pleaser." In part, it was because actor Dylan Minnette, who stars in the buzz-worthy Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, fronts the band and Season 1 of the series had just dropped, but also because the ‘60s guitar tone, surf-rock-influenced group is really good. Now, after a bit of viral success, the band of three childhood friends is approaching the release of their first full-length, and they're likely dying for you to cast aside the association of their other projects to see their music for what it's worth. For instance, the first single off their debut Nothing Happens, "Are You Bored Yet?" is a surefire ear worm. The SoCal group has long been influenced by ‘80s new wave sounds and a John Hughes-like youthful romanticism, all of which informs the track. Its pristine keys and drum machines particularly sound as if the song could have fed the airwaves circa ’86, and nothing has ever sounded so quintessential to soundtrack the scene of a high school dance than when rising bedroom pop artist Clairo’s duet kicks in. As somber as the song is about anxiety seeping into relationships, it still feels simply beautiful, just as young love should be.
"Movies," Weyes Blood
As psychedelic pop artist Weyes Blood, Natalie Mering creates a sonic landscape in her Titanic Rising track "Movies," which, just under six minutes, sounds as if it could score a short film featuring an old Hollywood-style romantic epic that's tragically destined to fail. It sweeps you off your feet with its synthesizers and Vivaldi-inspired violins that feel like the moment the lights drop in the theater to the penultimate, running-through-the-airport romantic scene in the movie. Even as the song is meant to bring you down to earth through a sweeping reality check that the movies we watched when we’re small are only fiction, "Movies" is like an untouchable, celestial body in itself. With four albums to her name, Weyes Blood has been an indie/alt favorite act for quite some time, but this is her Oscar-winning score.
"Might Be Right," White Reaper
Kentucky's White Reaper probably grew up listening to a lot of Van Halen, The Ramones, and Thin Lizzy, and a whole lot of other power pop rock bands. The group that dubbed themselves "The World's Best American Band" with their last album title is drenched in stadium rock nostalgia that they somehow make sound entirely new with a sort of sexy dirtiness and tactful fun. They continue to refine their sound, as if greasing up their engine to really go full throttle, making their latest song "Might Be Right" a golden example of the only music deserving of midnight parking lot hangs. Their extensive guitars are ferocious -- it's what a certified hook sounds like.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Streamail for more entertainment, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.