Moving on with the countdown, we’re getting into the Top 50 now. To be fair, this list is wholly subjective and even I find myself altering the ranking from time to time, but for the most part I think this sums up my feelings about right. It’s been a pretty killer year for music, and there is surely a lot of stuff that I’m either snubbing due to space or never got around to listening to, but I’m very happy with the list as a whole. Feel free to click play and enjoy your day!
Exploding with energy, Lifeboat is not only an infectious rock and roll romp, but it is impossible to ignore. New Politics‘ album is full of pop infused rock, but for me this is where the album shines brightest; creating a ball of blistering energy. With chant worthy chorus-lines and a pure anthem feel, Lifeboat bulldozes through from start to finish with piercing sounds, roaring vocals and impeccable musical construction.
“Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do.” And, with that simple little intro, Bea Miller opens song like you, a song that has been replaying in my head for months now. Working her hardest to shed her Disney Star persona by releasing 3 more mature EPs this year, Miller has received backing from similar artists like Demi Lovato as she solidifies herself as a pop diva in a sea of pop divas. Her growth is obvious, and on song like you she shows not just a maturity of musicality but a wonderfully weathered vocal tone that gives credence to her talent. I was a fan of her earlier works, but I’m very excited to see where this new journey takes her.
As Lady Gaga once said, “Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick,” and was she ever right! I don’t know who FARR is or where they came from, but please let them stick around and deliver more of this kind of bass shattering electronica. With harmonies that echo from verse to verse and that incredible bassline that vibrates throughout that chorus and splinters into the remainder of the track until that beat goes insane over the bridge. These guys have dropped 3 tracks this year, and their use of vocal harmonies and pulsating rhythms is remarkable. I want more…a lot more!
Those plucked strings, that angelic swell, those thought-provoking lyrics and that delicate delivery; all of these factors contribute to making Hazlett‘s Sugarcane one very special track. I’m a sucker for a singer/songwriter, but there is something about the way that Hazlett constructs this particular song that has me really anxious to see where he takes his talent. It has a very intimate, personal nature to it, but those choral echoes add a flare of drama that I can’t help but love.
You may not know her by name, but you know who Olivia O’Brien is. Her duet with gnash on last year’s i hate u, i love u was everywhere on every station all the time. Sure, it got a touch played out, but we all love the song so what does it matter. This year O’Brien dropped her debut EP and a slew of singles that deserve to get her recognition, especially No Love. From the simple piano opening to the bounce that overtakes the song to her slinky delivery of those fun and memorable lines; she has an interesting take on mainstream pop that I think could serve the airwaves some good. Let’s hope she takes off!
Everything about Judah & the Lion‘s ode to the child in all of us speaks to the core of me. Suit and Jacket is this year’s Wake Up, a song that defines the way it feels to hold onto our youth and that youthful innocence that we admire so much about our children. Coming of age in a song, and I love every second of it. Those strings, with their southern twang, that uplifted chorus and the way that bridge explodes in a chant; it is a true anthem for dreamers and all who refuse to let go of the dreams we have.
This was the song that started my obsession with Dermot Kennedy. I had A closeness on repeat for days, weeks even. His voice just gets to me, because it contains all the emotion one needs in this thing we call music. He exudes every feeling as he earnestly delivers every line; but there is no force here. He is naturally emotive, and it gives chills. From his folksy guitar work to his elevated pop sentiments, Kennedy‘s musicality is also something special and sets him apart from most acts surfacing these days. He has ‘it’, and I can’t wait to see how he matures.
In a year with established acts and voices like Jessie Ware, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, P!nk and the like dropping albums and singles and ballads, it was up to this complete unknown to wipe the floor with all of them, vocally. Yes, I’m going out on a limb and saying that Faouzia‘s vocals on her single, My Heart’s Grave, is the best of the year. Her range is phenomenal. It doesn’t hurt that the song lends itself to her highly emotional delivery, with quivers in her verses and that effortless rise in the chorus that hits notes that feel Mariah Carey pitched but with a full bodied depth that gives this young talent a voice all her own. You don’t know who she is, but something tells me you will very soon.
There is an otherworldly quality that fuels Gordi‘s Bitter End, a song that feels as intimate as it is expansive. With slivers of Bjork mixed into a more commercial package (although her album, which is stellar, is far less commercial than this particular track), Gordi‘s anti-ballad (it’s almost too soft to be considered a ballad) is nothing short of haunting. The build is there, despite the song being very delicate, and it creates a swirl of emotion and caps the track off beautifully. Gorgeously written and constructed, Gordi is certainly one to watch.
Oh Jessie Ware, I don’t even know the words. With an album that spans sounds and influences, Selfish Love sticks out as a true gem of a track. Laced with that Spanish guitar that gives this sultry track a dusty, exotic flare that perfectly compliments her vocals. The song just slinks along with this consistent fluidity that gets under the skin and causes you to just slink along with Ware. It’s not a big song (and she has plenty of those) but there is something about the song’s delicacy that makes it feel special.
Rennen, SOHN‘s latest album, is one of the very best of the year. From it’s exploration of themes and sounds, it is impeccably crafted. On that album, my personal favorite track is the politically charged lament over this world’s conditions. Yes, Proof has a LOT to say, and it does so magnificently, using musicality just as much as lyrics, implementing haunting echoes and pulsating beats to create a true energy and atmosphere that pleads for change and exudes the very feeling needed to make that voice heard. SOHN outdoes himself this year. How’s he going to top it?
Remember when Jenny was still from the block? Yeah, that’s the feeling I get when I listen to Dua Lipa. It’s nostalgic in a weird way because I’m once again 15 watching Jennifer Lopez dancing alongside Puff Daddy (or is it P. Diddy? or just Diddy? or Puff? I can’t remember). When you listen to New Rules, there isn’t anything special about it. It’s an above average pop song. In fact there are probably much better songs further back on this list, but New Rules is just too much fun and fills me with too many memories that I kind of adore it. There was also that one night with a bunch of friends where we experimented with mixed drinks and watched Dua Lipa music videos that kind of make this placement valid.
Not going to lie, Nothing But Thieves is one of my favorite things about music right now. My personal favorite rock band, I think they have what it takes to actually be remembered and become the rock icons of this generation. I Was Just a Kid is reason of that in that it has such a textural progression of sound without ever feeling forced and pieced together that they prove as a band they have what it takes to create. Moving fluidly from one tonal shift to another, bringing ferocity that is immediately (yet so smoothly) dropped into a melodic delicacy that is thrust into such a powerful booming presence, all supported by vocals that soar and lyrics that actually mean something; I Was Just a Kid is a tapestry of sound that is magnificently constructed. Flawless.
From the very first, “Da da dut da,” I was hooked. This slinky, jazzed up ballad is so cool and effortless in a very nostalgic, vintage kind of way. The way that Niia moves from word to word, from finished line to finished line, with such grace…it just pulls you into her world. And then she hits you with that high note, only to tease your ears and then slink back down into this low, melodic swell…the musicality creating this pocket that feels almost like a whisper, and then BAM, the finale just explodes. The more I listen to Sideline, the more obsessed I become. Those strings, that voice, that bass, that snap…perfect.
Oh my goodness, talk about chills. Carlile‘s vocals are out of this world on The Joke, but that’s only a small (and I say small, despite the fact that her vocals are anything but) part of why this song is so incredible. Those lyrics are some of the most powerful of the year; a tremendous and astute look at growing up and finding oneself in a world where no one wants you to. Delivering such poignant words in a flawless way, Brandi Carlile may have written the most important song of the year here. With hushed moments that move elegantly into very large moments (the way she sings, “the jokes on them,” is my single favorite vocal moment of the year), The Joke is a song we should all be talking about now and will most likely be talking about for years to come.
Two years ago, while I was painting the walls in our new house, I discovered The xx. I had a bunch of albums downloaded on my computer from the days when I bought everything on sale on iTunes and since we had no internet and Spotify was not possible, I started listening to every album I had yet to listen to; and Coexist was one of them. I was instantly a massive fan. Earlier this year, The xx released their third studio album, I See You, and personally I think it’s their masterwork. Moody, atmospheric, artistic and explorative, the album is one of my favorites of the year, for sure. Lips stuck out to me upon my first listen, and I’m still hooked. It encompasses everything that makes this particular album to great. It’s a sound all it’s own, and I love them all the more for that. Keep creating!
EASILY my favorite contestant to ever grace the American Idol stage, Jena Irene Asciutto‘s tragic loss (to a much lesser contestant, mind you) was bad enough; but the fact that it took her so long to actually release music was an even greater tragedy. That being said, her debut album was finally released this year, and she doesn’t disappoint. Of the albums many gems, Loneliness is the one that impresses me the most. Not only are her vocals tremendous, but the simple piano laden melody is draped with such drama. The theater here is undeniable; like a lost song from The Phantom of the Opera, or better yet, like a song ripped straight from Moulin Rouge!, Loneliness is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish.
Barns Courtney came out of nowhere this year, and I’m so glad he did because he’s one of the most promising acts to rear his head recently. His debut album is laced with aggression as well as a tender heart, and Little Boy (which taps into the later) gets me where it counts. This incredible letter to self gets everything right; from the poignant and emotion driven lyrics to the simple strum of the guitar to Barns‘ fluid vocals. There is an ‘old time’ charm here that permeates and creates a song that anyone can and will enjoy.
I think I wore out my copy of Take Me When You Go (at least I would have had I owned something other than the digital copy of the album). The point is, I listened to it ALL THE TIME. The Valley was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Sadly, it didn’t impress me as much as I wanted it too, but it did give me one of my favorite songs of the year; Blue Heaven Midnight Crush. This song is everything that makes Betty Who so wonderful. The dreamy, airy nature of the song’s musicality laced with her soft vocals and that romanticized lyricism; it’s everything I want from her x’s 1,000. I fail to grow tired of this song. To steal one of her own lyrics; “You’re like a fire on a summer night.”
When I was 16 years-old, Evanescence dropped their debut album. I remember seeing them on their first major tour and being incredibly excited to watch their star rise. Something weird happened along the way, and despite massive talent/potential and one of the greatest voices in music history, Evanescence became a sort of one-hit-wonder. Sure, they have a core fan base that has given them a cult status of sorts, but they pretty much disappeared well before their time. This year they came back with an album of orchestral remakes of their previous releases and it proves WHY they should have never left us. In fact, it’s so strong that it makes me sad they didn’t just release all new songs; especially when you consider how strong the original tracks are. Of the two, Hi-Lo is my favorite (in part because of the incredible Lindsey Stirling making an appearance). I hope that this is just the beginning of a reconnaissance of sorts because this band NEEDS to come back and show us what they’re made of!
I told you EXES would show up again (I’m not finished with them, either). This duo kept dropping singles all year (please just release an ALBUM!) and they are all pretty wonderful. Their dreamy pop melodies have me smitten, and their love stories (each song feels like a story) are just beautifully constructed. Taxi has me all sorts of happy every time I listen to it; falling in love with every line. Like good poetry, or a classic movie, this song takes you somewhere intimate, somewhere personal; a place we all want someone to take us.
This song, it’s just so…what’s the word; easy. There is just something about In My Arms that rests easy on the listener. Something to do with the melodic nature of the musicality, lacing rock with pop in a very graceful and impactful way, coupled with the earnest lyrics and those booming, baritone vocals that give such heft to the track; it all comes together in a very beautiful way. The bass, the tick of the drum sticks, the keys carrying the verses forward and then that explosive chorus-line; I just love everything about what Grizfolk and Jamie N Commons have done here.
Halsey has mentioned in interview that Eyes Closed was a complete collaborative effort between herself and The Weeknd, and it shows. It carries Halsey’s signature electro-pop musicality, and her dreamy vocals, but The Weeknd’s stamp of artistic vision is all over this track. I’m not going to lie; it’s the best thing she’s ever done. Her lament over a love lost and the heartbreak that comes from settling for something less that what/who you love is powerful in it’s subtlety (she’s noted that she originally wanted to sing this ‘bigger’ and The Weeknd convinced her to hush her vocals more), an emotional bleeding that rests very nicely in our eardrums.
We all remember Lee Ann Womack thanks to that country/pop ballad every mother sang to their daughters way back when (yes, we all hope they dance), but Womack has admitted to feeling stuck in the shadow of a popular song she didn’t feel creative responsibility for. That was just not the kind of artist Womack wanted to be. Finally, she’s released the album of her dreams, so-to-speak, and the authentic nature here is remarkable. All the Trouble opens her album and sets a very high bar. It’s equal parts classic and modern, filling the air with authentic country sounds while developing moody vocals that show maturity and grace. Womack FEELS this song, and it shows beautifully.
The Wolf probably contains my favorite opening musical arrangement this year. It evokes such mood, such atmosphere. When Manchester Orchestra failed to perform this song when I saw them live earlier this year, I felt jilted. This haunting track is the heaviest on their latest album (which is near perfect), and honestly it’s one I could listen to over and over. An aural tapestry of lows and highs, this well rounded track explodes with melody and well tamed aggression, creating something that feels powerful and intimate; with lyrics that pierce and that signature vocal that just fills all corners of the silence. Lush and absolutely gorgeous to listen to.
And that wraps up this batch. Tomorrow we’ll finish out the Top 100 with tracks 26-1! I hope you’ve enjoyed this so far. Feel free to comment away below.