Father John Misty – “Bored in the U.S.A.”
From the album I Love You, Honeybear
Sure, Father John Misty is a little embarrassing. But part of that is because he takes big swings. Like putting a laugh track in your album’s centerpiece. But this song directly confronts all the fears of middle-class America in just four-and-a-half minutes. Mid-life? Quarter-life? We’re all facing an existential crisis.
Sky Ferreira – “Everything Is Embarrassing”
Speaking of embarrassing, it’s really tough to be a Sky Ferreira. Waiting on her to put out new music is like she’s Lucy with the football and we’re Charlie Brown. At least we have this masterful Ariel Reichstadt/Dev Hynes-produced track that nails the awkwardness of putting yourself out there.
Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”
From the album Helplessness Blues
A ballad for every gifted kid who’s put off having kids, who doesn’t really know what his/her future holds, this title track has spoken to me for nearly a decade.
Florence + the Machine – “Shake It Out”
When your first big hit is as massive as “Dog Days Are Over,” it’d be hard to get even bigger. But Florence Welch knew it was possible. A massive, four-and-a-half minute scream into the void never sounded so cathartic.
fun. – “Some Nights”
Oh, what could have been. Some day fun. may reunite and seize what was in front of them. Until then they have a song that Millennials are going to be singing along to at bars and reunions for all eternity. It’s a ball of anxiety with a happy face on. What could be more relatable than that?
Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
This song feels a lot older than six years old, mainly because of a phrase that won’t ever be uttered again: “Did you catch them on Letterman last night?” The band brought the house down in March 2014, securing their legend among the few that caught it. Even without it, this is a deeply moving song about hoping someone will do the right thing, but never does.
Gallant – “Doesn’t Matter”
Relying on Frank Ocean to consistently put out gorgeous R&B music is foolish. So in those gaps, one had to turn to other gents indebted to Maxwell for a fix. He’s at his most free here, a pure hit of summertime bliss.
Gorillaz – “On Melancholy Hill”
Damon Albarn is at his most vulnerable here, which is a little odd when you consider this is a band made of cartoons. But it’s such a lovely little song, it’s more likely to lift you up than bring you down.
HAIM – “Little of Your Love”
Picking a favorite song from HAIM’s magnificent debut album was an impossible task, so I had to go with the standout from their slightly underwhelming follow-up. (Though that was also challenging, considering “Right Now” is pretty much just as good.) I think it was the overlay of “Don’t let me/Don’t let me down” that did it for me.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “If We Were Vampires”
From the album The Nashville Sound
In a long and illustrious songwriting career, this might be Isbell’s best and most heartfelt work. On its surface, it’s not a romantic song, but inside it’s truth is deep and bittersweet.
Sarah Jaffe – “Don’t Disconnect”
From the album Don’t Disconnect
The Denton native put out a lot of great music in a short amount of time. But this ethereal ballad feels like the perfect balance between her folky beginnings and the electronic-influenced experimental phase she’s in now. Seeing her open a concert with this, eventually backed by an orchestra, was one of my favorite live music moments of the decade.
Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
The most exhilarating rock song of the decade. While many acts focused on wading through the most difficult parts of life, Japandroids focused on the positive with 100 percent sincerity. Somehow, they pulled it off.
Jay-Z & Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean and The-Dream – “No Church in the Wild”
While the entire Watch the Throne album is filled with bangers, in 2019 it plays like rap strictly for the 1%. But there’s something irresistible about this propulsive track that still doesn’t sound like almost anything else out there. Plus, Kanye distills bad hangovers into one perfect couplet: “Sunglasses and Advil/Last night was mad real.”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “All That”
Of the many wonderful tracks on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion, the one that’s always stood above the rest is this ode to staying friends. With stellar production from Ariel Rechstaidt and Dev Hynes, it sounds like it could have just as easily come out the year Jepsen was born.
Justice – “New Lands”
From the album Audio, Video, Disco.
While Daft Punk remained the most important French electronic duo, Justice shouldn’t be forgotten so quickly. In a perfect world, this would play in every stadium across the world, regardless of sport.
Kelis – “Acapella”
While she’ll always be best-known for “Milkshake,” this is far and away her best song. With pure disco production, this feels like something Donna Summer would have released in her heyday.
Kings of Leon – “Back Down South”
While this Tennessee band became a big fat joke – even cosmically… a bird literally shit in the lead singer’s mouth during a concert – this was the end of a great run of albums that saw them evolve their sound gradually. This track feels like a farewell to the level of success they achieved, which the world tended to agree with.
Lady Gaga – “The Edge of Glory”
While I was originally going to pick the sultry “Do What You Want,” her choice of duet partner has aged terribly. So I’m going with another collaboration, this time with someone unproblematic: the late, great Clarence Clemons, whose sax solo capped off a year where that was all the rage. This is Lady Gaga’s best track of her dance era, before she transitioned into her singer-songwriter/Oscar-nominated actress phase.
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
An anthem for Black Lives Matter, filled with all the pain and hope of that movement. It’s Lamar speaking truth to power. White America didn’t get it, but it was never for them. And if you can’t understand the point, that’s on you.
LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”
From the album This Is Happening
At 3:05 in this nine-minute opus, every hipster has to drop what they’re doing and dance. It’s biologically impossible to stop yourself.
Lecrae feat. Propaganda – “Gangland”
From the mixtape Church Clothes 3
It’s entirely possible you’ve never heard of him, but Lecrae is one of the most important artists of the decade. He remained on an independent label despite being pursued by every major rapper, eventually delivering his own No. 1 album. But he also spoke up against white supremacy and police brutality in the church, which didn’t make him many friends. This track states it as plainly as possible: “Why would we listen?/When American churches scuff they TOMS on our brothers’ dead bodies/As they march to stop gay marriage.”
Local Natives – “Heavy Feet”
From the album Hummingbird
A band that faded from memory as the influence of music blogs died, this Silver Lake act produced some of the most gorgeous rock music you’ll ever, none more breathtaking than this.
Lorde – “Liability”
How talented is Lorde? All she needs is a piano and her voice to devastate you. Co-written and co-produced by former fun. member Jack Antonoff, this is one of the purest expressions of loneliness, anxiety and self-doubt.