Best Music of 2019 (So Far)

Or just, Songs I’ve Listened to A Lot This Year

So it’s practically the end of the year, and it’s been quiet around these parts for no real reason other than I’m a serial procrastinator. I’ve just been plain lazy when it comes to putting down all the thoughts I have about the music I listen to and think about, but the urge to write always wins so here we are again.

I have to start with my favorite recent news: the Rolling Stones have finally given back songwriting credits to Richard Ashcroft for The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” I wrote about the injustice of it ages ago, about how ridiculously unfair it was that a huge band like the Stones took money (and most importantly, credit for the track and all future royalties) from the young one hit wonders.

Especially since Mick Jagger and them had sampled that famous string part too, and definitely didn’t acknowledge the black artists they pinched it from.

Richard Ashcroft of the Verve
Richard Ashcroft | Variety

I guess you could say this year is one for reckonings and redemptions – R Kelly finally got outed for the shit he’d been doing for years, and we – the music listening public whether active or passive – had to figure out what to do with the music of Michael Jackson after the HBO documentary came out.

It’s still weird. Having watched it, I don’t think I can listen to his music straightforwardly again (and once you cut Michael Jackson out of your life you realize how inescapable he is even in your own head), and one of the big questions for me was how complicit and responsible we are as fans.

What role do we play making someone so big, so untouchable, that we look the other way to things that would otherwise anger us, question the truth because it doesn’t fit with the fantasy we’ve built, or completely disregard reality because someone’s talent is transcendent and holds pages in our memory books?

And still, when some friends and I were talking about whether it was gross and arrogant or cool and kind for performers to throw towels they’d just wiped their sweat with into crowds, I readily admitted I would catch a Solange Knowles sweat towel. I happily participate in the mythologizing and readily forgive any sins. When I Get Home, Solange’s Stevie Wonder-influenced latest offering, is obviously one of my top three favorite albums of the year so far

Solange Knowles When I Get Home album cover
Solange When I Get Home | Pitchfork

The other is When This Life is Over by And the Kids – a perfectly sing-along-loudly-to album that’s got both twee-cuteness and glib observations like “life is a bastard/life wants to kill you/don’t get old.” Karen O and Danger Mouse round out my top three albums (because can anyone ever really go wrong collaborating with Danger Mouse?), and there’s also this album by Nilufer Yanya’s called Miss Universe – her name had me thinking I’d be in for some neo-soul grooves, but instead she’s the female equivalent of King Krule that I didn’t know I was waiting for.

I also have to throw in some songs that aren’t from 2019 but that I’ve been listening to a lot when the enormity of catching up to new music wears me out and I just want something favorite and familiar. This year is inevitably laced with nostalgia – a lot of some great albums turn 10 and 20 this year – but it’s also making us face our tendency to rose-color eras and people that were problematic, and most importantly, really look at ourselves and the roles we play in upholding the addictive and questionable system of celebrity.

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