By Nick Demaree, firstname.lastname@example.org
Look, I’m not trying to shame anybody here. Obviously, it’s impossible to listen to every song released in a single year, and even though we here at KURE try to showcase music you may otherwise be missing out on, some songs are bound to slip through the cracks. But that’s what this list is for – to point you towards new music that got lost under the stack of releases this year! This is by no means a ranking list – none of these tracks were “the best song this year”. However, each one is worth checking out before the year’s end, and there’s something in here for everyone!
1. Bad Habits – The Aquaducks
Moody, sudden, and bursting with swagger, Bad Habits is a fitting song for Nashville band The Aquaducks to open their 2019 EP The Deep End. The track showcases the full range of the band’s talents impeccably, starting with a groove so tight and complex that I still haven’t figured out its exact time signatures, despite countless replays. Cavanaugh Mims’ vocals are effortlessly dynamic, alternating between soothing verses and bellowing choruses, maintaining a soulful aura throughout. The real staying power of this song, however, is the Aquaducks’ cheeky use of rhythm; from the bombastic opening theme to the inventive riffs that ornament every part of the song, Bad Habits is a song that refuses to let listeners fall back into old rhythms, 4/4 or otherwise.
2. Free Fall – Ok Goodnight
Erupting onto the progressive metal scene with a refreshingly strong sense of self, Boston-based Ok Goodnight found a fanbase early on this year, largely due to the prior musical contributions of lead singer Casey Lee Williams to the animated series RWBY. That’s not to say that Ok Goodnight hasn’t earned its support – quite the opposite, in fact. Ok Goodnight’s first album, Limbo, is a remarkably aspirational and coherent debut, especially for a band whose average age is around 20. Each song delivers classic tenets of progressive rock – driving guitar riffs, complex drum fills, blitzing synths, and thudding bass – with overwhelming and daring exuberance. Perhaps the most ambitious track on the album is Freefall, a song that innocuously envelops the viewer in a piano-driven swirl then traps them in an orchestral whirlwind, all while playing in 5/4 time (Hey, I’m a sucker for uneven time signatures).
3. Advertising – The Dip
Seattle revivalists The Dip exist alongside St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Nathanial Rateliff and the Night Sweats and in what I like to call the “Holy Triumvirate of Vintage Deliciousness,” and their 2019 album The Dip Delivers only reaffirms their placement in this trinity of venerated musicians. While the whole album is filled to the brim with songs that may as well have been pulled from 1956, Advertising stands out as one of the most energetic recordings. The third track off the album, Advertising is a soul-and-blues-saturated romp that features organist Delvon Lamarr and soul singer Jimmy James, both experienced performers who lend considerable musicianship, with Lamarr’s solo being one of the best moments on the whole album. Advertising starts out strong with a fantastic guitar solo and never once drops below that level of quality for three whole minutes. The album title says it all: when it comes to quality music, The Dip Delivers.
4. Starting Line – Cory Wong and Emily C. Browning
Though he’s best known for his frequent collaborations with soft-funk band Vulfpeck, Cory Wong’s solo career is not to be neglected by any guitarist worth their salt. Armed with optimism and an unfeasibly loose wrist, Wong’s third studio album Motivated Music for the Syncopated Soul presents many worthy offerings. Among them is the gorgeously crafted Home, which features Jon Batiste of The Late Show’s Stay Human, and the bass-slapping funk of Cosmic Sans, featuring Tom Misch. However, Starting Line shines brighter than any other track on the album, in no small part due to the cheerful, sunny contributions of Emily C. Browning on vocals. The song subtly builds its momentum, sprinkling in gentle harmonies and synth chords over minimal drumming until it unfolds into a chorus so irresistible it makes me want to run through a clearing of daisies.
5. Can’t Stop Your Lovin’ – Poolside
It’s quite rare that I find an indie synth-pop tune that makes me sit up and take note, but Poolside and Panama managed to craft a tune that bridges the divide between relaxing atmospheric synths and catchy pop sensibilities. It’s by no means a song that makes listeners get up and dance, but Can’t Stop Your Lovin’ has an undeniable appeal – it’s warm, earnest, and sensitively performed, with minimal beach-house production reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s Kauai. The track doesn’t simply stumble into a beat and take a nap for the next three minutes – it’s buoyant, transportive, and carefully crafted.
6. Flimsy Fidelity – Abby Jeanne
Bluesy, gritty, and bursting with emotion, Abby Jeanne’s album Music Box Dancer existed outside my usual sphere of musical preferences until more tasteful minds insisted I investigate it. Needless to say, the album was one pleasant surprise after another, from the melancholy mellowness of Muse in Vein to the rollicking passion of Cosmic Beings, proving Jeanne has more dimensions to her than many of her contemporaries. The highlight of the album, however, is Flimsy Fidelity, a song that brings elements of Motown R&B into Jeanne’s indie-rock leanings to create a sound that is, simply put, classic. Between Jeanne’s righteous intonations and the Ray LaMontagne-style horns backing her, Flimsy Fidelity charms with ease.
7. After – Atomic Guava
It’s been a good year for guitarist Martin Gonzalez. In addition to his contributions to Ok Goodnight, Gonzalez found time to partner his overwhelming guitar chops with Elizabeth Hull’s strikingly mature vocals – a combination that results in the intoxicating progressive pop-metal band Atomic Guava. The band released their first self-titled EP this year and left a strong impression despite having only three tracks to their name. Hull executes total command over every track from start to finish, cutting through both the tension of minimally instrumented verses and the chaos of Gonzalez’s mighty power chords with the confidence and heart of a seasoned session musician. The opening track After, however, makes the strongest impression, likely due to its impassioned lyrics and heavier pop influences. Perhaps some of the best parts of this song are the extra production touches – I’ve never listened to a song and thought it needed a xylophone solo, but After makes me wonder why there aren’t more.
8. Get Along – Garrett Williamson and Emma Rose Williamson
The song that inspired this list in the first place, Garrett Williamson’s latest single Get Along once again delivers his signature nostalgic blend of funk, pop, and R&B while throwing in a dozen other genre influences just to spite any music critic that dares saddle Williamson with the broad categorization of “indie.” Garrett’s sister and collaborator Emma Rose Williamson lends her talents to his music once again, introducing a strident and galvanizing vocal performance that nicely complements the blaring horns and slick guitar strumming. The song is densely produced, with addictive synth hooks, crisp drum machines, and finely tuned Prince/En Vogue-esque vocal harmonies all coalescing in a playful tribute to the sibling rivalries of youth that solidifies the Williamsons as talents to watch.
Honorable Mentions: Synth Grass by Knapsack Church by Samm Henshaw feat. EARTHGANG Clapback by RDGLDGRN