Seryn – “Disappear”
In their brief time, this Denton band produced a lot of stellar tracks, but this single from their second album Shadow Shows represents them at their best: the harmonizing vocals, the lush arrangements, the heavy use of strings. The band didn’t last, but their music will.
Amy Shark – “Adore”
A more punk-rock version of the emotions expressed in “Dancing on My Own,” that’s both more bitter and more hopeful than Robyn’s longing. No wonder it was used so effectively in Schitt’s Creek.
Sturgill Simpson – “The Promise”
From the album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
While Simpson continually tweaked country and rock conventions, what may be his finest moment is turning this extremely cheesy ’80s ballad into a Western standard.
Sing Street – “Drive It Like You Stole It”
From the Sing Street soundtrack
We’re a little ways off from me talking about the best films of the decade, but it’s a straight-up travesty this gem wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar or a Grammy. Like the film it’s from, it’s an absolute delight that’s impossible not to enjoy.
Snail Mail – “Pristine”
From the album Lush
Lindsey Jordan’s debut album recalled the best women of ’90s indie rock, much of which came out before she was even in kindergarten. “Pristine” is the ultimate in homage, with perfect guitar work, raw lyrics and, well, lush vocals.
Skylar Spence – “Fiona Coyne”
He may have had to change his stage name from Saint Pepsi, but Ryan DeRobertis’ relentlessly catchy track (named for a Degrassi character) stayed the same: since 2014, it’s been in constant rotation.
Spoon – “Inside Out”
From the album They Want My Soul
I may be alone in thinking They Want My Soul is Spoon’s best album, but I doubt I’m alone in thinking this is the most beautiful song they’ve ever recorded. Like Britt Daniel, “I don’t got time for holy rollers,” especially as “time keeps going on.”
St. Vincent – “Teenage Talk”
How amazing is Annie Clark? Her best song of this decade is this bittersweet and nostalgic non-album single that first debuted in the end credits of an episode of Girls. That officially brings the number of good things to come out of Girls to two (this and Adam Driver).
Sufjan Stevens – “Mystery of Love”
From the Call Me by Your Name soundtrack
One of two haunting tracks written for Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, this Oscar-nominated theme captures the ache of the end of a relationship with your first love. Few people are better at writing about broken hearts than Sufjan.
The Struts – “Could Have Been Me”
I don’t think there was a single band that was as much fun to listen to this decade as British glam rock throwback. Clapping along to this song at their performance at Austin City Limits Musical Festival was one of the most exhilarating live music moments for me.
Taylor Swift – “Out of the Woods”
You could make a case for “Dear John” or “All Too Well,” but to me Taylor Swift’s best single song this decade is maybe the sixth or seventh song people think of off her magnum opus 1989. It sounds like a T’Pau B-side and I mean that as a sincere compliment.
Usher – “Climax”
In his third decade as a recording artist, Usher Raymond mostly played it frustratingly safe. But he stepped outside his comfort zone with this Diplo and Ariel Rechstaidt-produced slow jam. Operating almost exclusively in the falsetto register, he gives his best vocal performance to date, lamenting a relationship that’s reached its end.
Vampire Weekend – “Unbelievers”
The song that completely turned me around on them, which was no easy feat. Hearing them perform this Pitchfork Music Festival in 2012 – a full year before Modern Vampires of the City – won me over, and came to me even more in the years after, as my own faith journey became less and less certain.
WALK THE MOON – “Shut Up and Dance”
This title is also what I tell to haters of this song.
The War on Drugs – “Thinking of a Place”
From the album A Deeper Understanding
This 11-minute jam from their most recent album is a pure escape from the real world, a sonic representation of that place in our minds we have to go to for a reprieve from everything we get thrown.
Jessie Ware – “First Time”
From the album Glasshouse
Ware should have been as big as Adele, but she flew under the radar even in her native Britain. Her breathtaking vocals enhance the incredible production to produce perfect pop.
Kanye West feat. Rick Ross – “Devil in a New Dress”
Of Ye’s many, many highlights this decade, for some reason this less-heralded track from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy rolls all of his anxieties and best artistic impulses into a standout in an album full of them.
Wilco – “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”
From the album The Whole Love
My favorite Wilco album of this decade closed with this 12-minute story about a son walking away from the religion his father raised him in. It’s both poignant and powerful.
“Weird Al” Yankovic – “Mission Statement”
From the album Mandatory Fun
Aside from a stint at a record store, I’ve always worked in some capacity for a giant company with reams of policy documents and large workforces. So Al’s skewering of nonsensical corporate-speak really hit home. I used to have it printed at my desk, but now that I work for a company that tries to avoid that bullshit, I haven’t hung it up since I’ve been there.
Yuno – “No Going Back”
Other than Jason Mendoza, Yuno is the only good thing to come out of Jacksonville, Florida. He released things here and there on Bandcamp and eventually got signed to Sub Pop. This was his first single for them and it’s bright and bouncy, and hopefully portends a great career.