While I'm sure there's plenty of new music that I didn't find in 2019, I wasn't really looking for it. More and more I find myself retreating to old favorites rather than seeking out new stuff to enjoy. 80's pop, classic old-school rap, and 80's metal were all reminders of easier times, and that was where my refuge lay. So here is what's sure to be a very thin list, but it's what I managed to think of when asking myself what my favorites of 2019 were.
#1 Lover by Taylor Swift
I tend to ignore Taylor Swift, only becoming aware when one of her songs grabs me while listening to internet radio or something. But then Taylor performed the song ME! At the Billboard Music Awards with Brendon Urie, and she instantly became impossible to ignore. Not only was it a great pop song, but the spectacle which accompanied it was fantastic. Then she released You Need to Calm Down, along with a star-studded video that completely delivered as a follow-up. Taylor’s reign over 2019 was sealed. Filled with pop songs that kept me asking Alexa to play the album over and over again, this was my favorite of 2019 and I make no apologies for it.
#2 Work by Holy Ghost!
The self-titled debut album from Holy Ghost! Was almost too good to be true. It came along at the right moment with the right pop sensibilities and struck a chord that has infused the album on my psyche. I thought for sure the second album would be a disaster because isn't that the way it always goes? But it wasn't. I loved it just as much. And here we are with album number three... and it's a darn good effort too. The duo have found their groove and seem to be content to stay there, which is not the bad thing you'd think it should be. Yeah, all three albums could have been released at the same time and don't really show us anything new, but at a time where I was grasping for something older and familiar, Work fit the bill perfectly.
#3 Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
It's premature to say that she peaked with her previous album, E•MO•TION, but Carly Rae Jepsen's latest effort fell slightly short of my lofty expectations (seriously, E•MO•TION is a phenomenal pop album!). Sure, some of the tracks are what I had been missing in my life, but some of them kinda fall kinda flat for me too (I detest Everything He Needs with its repetitive hook and wacky synth bends). If I had to analyze things, I'd say that she's gone with a slightly more mellow/weird vibe on those songs? Even so, I had this album playing an awful lot throughout Summer 2019 and since it has 15(!) tracks, it's still got a heck of a lot of terrific music to offer.
#4 Saves the World by MUNA
I played MUNA's debut album to death. So to say that I was looking forward to their follow-up is an epic understatement. And while I was happy to have more from the band, they took a bit of a departure that kept me from loving the entirety of Saves the World. Maybe it's a touch too introspective and brutal for my tastes? I dunno. Still, the band proves that they're not fading away any time soon. They know how to craft lyrics, marry them to a beat like nobody's business, and keep me coming back. I just wish it was back to this album more than the first, which is still the one I am playing all the time.
#5 Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend
Many a time I'll find myself thinking "What the heck ever happened to Ezra Koenig?" 2019 finally answered that question after a six year gap from the previous album. It's filled with all the things you could want from Vampire Weekend including that one track that you have to skip every time the album plays (ironically, this time it's the title track and first song). In some respects, this is my favorite of four albums Koenig has blessed us with... though it could be I've just been so starved for them for so long.
#6 Fine Line by Harry Styles
While former One Direction boy-banders Liam Payne and Harry Styles both released an album in 2019, Liam's kind of went off the rails (he needs a stronger producer to figure out where he's going)... whereas Harry's had actual direction that was shaped to fit his talents perfectly. While his is not my favorite type of music, I did greatly appreciate what came out of Fine Line and found myself listening to it more than I ever thought I would. That surprise is why this ranks so high on my list. I just wasn't expecting this... not from Harry Styles (the redundant awfulness of the title track excepted, because holy crap is that bad).
#7 Hurts 2B Human by P!NK
I like P!NK best when she embraces pop music and unleashes the songs that play to that genre. Unfortunately she is "maturing" and these last two albums seem more interested in having something angsty and dramatic to say instead of being the big poppy fun I love her for. This time around we get a lot of duets, which is fine but, unlike her collaborations with Nate Ruess and Lily Allen, her tracks with Wrabel and Khalid bored me (holy crap, the angst!). Precious few tracks stand out from her oeuvre in any meaningful way, but when you're talking about P!NK, that's not a tragedy. She still knows how to craft a really good song.
#8 Inflorescent by Friendly Fires
Ask me to name a song by Friendly Fires, and the only one I can guarantee will enter my head is Skeleton Boy from their debut album. Everything after that is a blur, including this album, and it's perfectly fine. I'm in the mood for their brand of mellow pop sensibility far more often than I feel is healthy.
#9 Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande
Theoretically speaking, I should love Ariana Grande's music a lot more than I do. Alas, while I've liked all her albums just fine, they never quite take me where I need to go to "stick" with me. Thank U, Next does a better job than most, however. Her voice is as good as ever and the lyrics are well-crafted. As if that wasn't enough, her video for the title track is nicely self-aware, parodying Clueless, Bring it On, and Legally Blonde, to flawless effect.
#10 Cause and Effect by Keane
What's funny is that when I happened upon Cause and Effect, my excitement was over the moon at the idea that the BAND Cause and Effect had released new music! I love their stuff, but we haven't heard from them in nearly a decade. But anyway... this was a new album by Keane, which has been a band that I lose enthusiasm for with each passing album. They peaked with songs off of Hopes and Fears and there hasn't been another Somewhere Only We Know or Everybody's Changing since. Not that I want them to keep repeating themselves, but none of their later stuff seems to grab me (and yet I will happily listen to their first effort over and over). This, their fifth studio album, I enjoyed more than the previous two, but it still feels like they are relying on soaring vocals to sell the songs instead of catchy hooks and interesting melodies. I dunno. Maybe in time I'll appreciate Cause and Effect more, but for now it's a happy distraction from time to time instead of the obsession it should be.
FAVORITE VIDEO OF 2019 • Thinkin' Bout You by Ciara
Not only is the song fantastic, Ciara's video for it really makes it memorable for obvious (and not so obvious) reasons.
FAVORITE MISSING IN ACTION OF 2019 • Chasing Stars by Postiljonen
Apparently this song was released in late 2018, but I never heard it until early 2019. I fully expected it would be followed by a new album this year, but it was not to be. I have no idea if this is a leftover song or what, but a new album from one of my favorite bands can't get here soon enough.
FAVORITE ANTICIPATION FOR 2020 • Hotspot by Pet Shop Boys
One of my all-time favorite bands seem to churn out albums every three years like clockwork (give or take). Since Super dropped in 2016, it was only natural to expect that we'd see another hit in 2019. Instead it's coming next month, which is more-or-less on schedule. Problem is... I haven't been able to fully embrace a Pet Shop Boys album since Yes (which is likely my second favorite after Please). It seems like I have been able to take half the songs off of one album (like Elysium) and combine it with half from the follow-up (like Electric) to get a full album's worth of songs I love. Since Super was essentially in the same boat, I'm guessing I'll be loving half of Hotspot as well. Still, even the worst tracks from Neil and Chris are going to be leagues above most songs released in 2020, so I'm understandably excited about it.
Here's hoping I find a renewed passion for new music in 2020.