Just for Fun – 2019 Top New Music Plays
a 10-minute read, but many hours of fun if you choose …
Happy New Year! Hope you are enjoying the holiday season and looking forward to 2020.
Welcome to my 2019 top music fun lists. I prepare this write-up and music links as a way to connect with friends.
While all art forms are ultimately about similar timeless human issues, I especially like to follow new music. It helps me stay current to new expressions and perspectives of creative people … and it is so much fun!
Did you know almost 20,000 brand-new songs are uploaded to Spotify every day, which means more than 7 million new songs are available in a year? And 99% of all music streams come from just 10% of the songs available.
There is too much new music each year for anyone to hear it all, so I enjoy sharing my music “finds” with others who might appreciate them. I am not a musician and certainly not an artful music critic. I am just someone who likes what he likes and respects that others may feel differently.
There are two lists below for you to enjoy if you choose, one list of top new music albums for 2019 and a second list of new artists to track in 2020. My bias is generally toward new artists and music I find interesting and enjoyable enough to listen many times. The lists below differ from many critics’ choices and also include various musical genres. I do not like working hard to listen to music, so I hope you might find the artists listed below interesting, even if they are outside your usual listening habits.
There are some big shifts underway in the music industry and the nature of music itself.
Hip hop/R&B has eclipsed popular music as the most dominant musical genre listened to in the US and trending in other countries too.
New music favors electronic and synthesized productions, while rock and roll style guitar-oriented music is less mainstream.
Albums are losing importance as listening habits shifting toward songs and playlists. Streaming-era artists generally prefer releasing a trickle of songs to keep the interest of their public and gather placements on playlists for visibility.
There is growing trend toward greater live streaming of performances as a complement to recorded releases.
Music is also becoming more global as artists on every continent are getting access to global distribution.
Stay tuned as music changes in the future, as venture capitalists and big-tech companies like Google and Facebook pour more and more money into researching and productizing AI-generated music.
Musically, 2019 has been another sad and angry year. As art typically does, much of this year’s music reflects the angst of the times. While there is some great art in the anger, it just doesn’t encourage repeat listens and enjoyment for me. So, the lists below intentionally do not include much music of that nature.
With respect to recurring critics’ top picks such as Angel Olsen, Nick Cave, Solange, Big Thief, Bad Bunny and Ariana Grande, Weyes Blood and others not listed below … I found myself coming back to the below albums instead.
So, here we go. If you find the time, open your heart, your mind, your attention and give ‘em a listen. Music touches people differently. You may not like it all, but hopefully, you discover some music you had not enjoyed previously.
You can easily sample all the artists on the two Spotify playlists (5 hours of fun in total) or otherwise direct your attention to specific artists based on their genre or the write-ups provided further below.
2019 Top New Tunes Sampler (54 songs from 21 artists)
2020 Artists to Watch Sampler (39 songs from 12 artists)
Please let me know what you think! If I missed some new music that you liked during 2019, please drop me a note. I enjoy checking out your “finds” too.
Best wishes during this holiday season and throughout 2020. We are blessed in so many ways.
Top New Music for 2019
21. 100 gecs, “1000 gecs”
An American experimental music duo originally from St. Louis but now based elsewhere, Brady Dylan (Los Angeles) and Laura Les (Chicago). This is a 23-minute, 10-song barrage on the senses. They mash up every genre of music here. 100 gecs are so different from anyone else out there right now; I was reminded of the Sleigh Bells when they first came onto the scene. Give ‘em a go. You will smile, scratch your head, tap your ears and then wonder how they came up with this. Listen to 1000 gecs on Spotify or 1000 gecs on Apple.
20. Midland, “Let it Roll”
An American country music group from Dripping Springs, Texas. The group plays traditional 70’s style country mixed with breezy 70’s era band influences, such as the Eagles. Saw them live and enjoyed them very much. Listen to Let it Roll on Spotify or Let it Roll on Apple.
19. Faye Webster, “Atlanta Millionaires Club”
This is the third album from a 21-year-old Atlanta artist who coalesces R&B with indie-folk. Her songs have a dreamy and sleepy pace, which typically become ear worms with repeated spins. Listen to Atlanta Millionaires Club on Spotify or Atlanta Millionaires Club on Apple.
18. William Tyler, “Goes West”
William Tyler is a Nashville-based folk/indie guitarist and composer. I stumbled across this album and became hooked. His instrumental music is relaxing and uplifting and gets even more so after repeated listens. One person suggested, “it might be simpler to think of the record like a camping trip for the soul.” This is a perfect antidote to the speed and impatience we seem to carry day-to-day. Listen to Goes West on Spotify or Goes West on Apple.
17. Lauren Jenkins, “No Saint”
The Texas born, Carolina-raised singer/songwriter was highlighted on a number of lists as “one to watch” in 2019. Her debut album is solidly in the country rock genre. She has an authentic voice reminiscent of Stevie Nicks. Listen to No Saint on Spotify or No Saint on Apple.
16. Ex Hex, “It’s Real”
This is the second album from the Washington DC-based rock trio led by Mary Timony. Ex Hex has a big sound fueled by guitars, bass, drums and regular doses of reverb. Their songs will make any 70 & 80’s rock fan smile, with nods to artists such as Foreigner and Billy Squier and Foreigner along the way. Listen to It's Real on Spotify or It's Real on Apple.
15. X Ambassadors, “Orion”
This is the Ithaca New York rock trio’s second album. Orion is an eclectic album with a fusion of pop, indie, hip-hop, R&B and everything in-between. Have seen them several times, and their energy is high both live and recorded. Listen to Orion on Spotify or Orion on Apple.
14. Jade Bird, “Jade Bird”
This is the debut album for the 22-year-old indie rock singer/songwriter. She made the 2017 list with her first EP, and this album continues both the intensity and diversity of her writing and performing. Saw her perform in Chicago this year, and she was fantastic. More to come for sure. Listen to Jade Bird on Spotify or Jade Bird on Apple.
13. Kanye West, “Jesus is King”
Kanye’s work doesn’t sneak up on anyone. His music is both loved and hated by many, and he manages to be controversial outside of his music too. Jesus Is King is a bold statement and has doses of Kanye genius and edge that only great artists can deliver. At a time when many are running from God, slowing their pace of music and trying to “chill”, this is an all-in expression with great urgency. Listen to Jesus is King on Spotify and Jesus is King on Apple.
12. FKA Twigs, “Magdalene”
The British singer/songwriter/dancer, Tahliah Barnett, brings an incredible range and palette to her second album that feels almost operatic and Renaissance themed. This is an introspective and emotional work which blends genres and is perfectly produced. Deservedly earned significant critical acclaim during the year. Not an easy listen, but too good as art to be omitted from this list. Listen to Magdalene on Spotify or Magdalene on Apple.
11. Michael Kiwanuka, “Kiwanuka”
This is the British singer/songwriter’s third album. He has been widely and critically decorated with each album, though this is the most accessible one of them for me. In repeated listens, his melancholy becomes more and more apparent. This is great art. Listen to Kiwanuka on Spotify or Kiwanuka on Apple.
10. Matt Maeson, “Bank on the Funeral”
This is the debut album for the 26-year-old soul-baring singer/songwriter from Virginia Beach. "I think a lot of the songs on the record are depressing and uplifting at the same time, because no matter where I’m at, if I’m in a really dark place I know I’m gonna get out of it. And that’s the message I’ve been putting in a lot of these songs." He sold out every date of his first headlining tour throughout the US during 2019. Saw him live and he was fantastic. Listen to Bank on the Funeral on Spotify or Bank on the Funeral on Apple.
9. Kim Petras, “Clarity”
This is the debut album for the 27-year-old German dance-pop singer and songwriter, currently based in Los Angeles. Her music is a collage that borrows freely from the 1970’s through today to establish a glamorous pop persona on the album and beyond. She has a strong voice, empowering lyrics, polished production and even released a second album in 2019. She may indeed move more mainstream. Listen to Clarity on Spotify or Clarity on Apple.
8. Local Natives, “Violet Street”
This is the fourth album by this American indie rock band based in Los Angeles. The music is atmospheric and layered all the way through. “When am I Gonna Lose You” is one of my favorite songs of the year. Listen to Violet Street on Spotify or Violet Street on Apple.
7. Quinn XCII, “From Michigan With Love”
Mikael Temrowski, known by his stage name Quinn XCII, is an American singer and songwriter from Detroit, Michigan. The “Quinn” in “Quinn XCII” is actually an acronym that stands for “Quit Unless your Instincts are Never Neglected.” And he was born in 1992, thus the XCII. I always ensure to include a band from my hometown, and the fact he is a Michigan State graduate sealed the deal for 2019. Back to the music. The album crosses pop. Hip hop and EDM genres and carries a positive outlook. Listen to From Michigan ... On Spotify or From Michigan ... on Apple.
6. Pip Blom, “Boat”
In her namesake Dutch indie rock quartet, the 23-year-old brings guitars back to the center. The tunes have plenty of hooks and chords mixed with moody riffs and soundscapes. Pip Blom writes songs that can make you fall in love with guitars again. Listen to Boat on Spotify or Boat on Apple.
5. Lizzo, “Cuz I Love You”
Melissa Jefferson, now known as Lizzo, was born in Detroit, raised in Houston and began her recording career based in Minneapolis. This third album from the pop and hip hop artist brings 33 minutes of twerk, hip hop, self-love anthems and powerful soul ballads. Her classic training as a flutist and gospel experiences are evident too. High attitude and high energy. Listen to Cuz I Love You on Spotify or Cuz I Love You on Apple.
4. Lana Del Ray, “Norman F******g Rockwell”
New York native Lana Del Rey has built a Hollywood identity in her five previous albums. On her 6th album, she teamed with famous hit producer Jack Antonoff and created what could be a classic album (time will tell). This is her first album I have been able to listen to repeatedly. The vintage Americana references and darker stories weave perfectly with her slower and dreamy vocal delivery. The album seems uniquely suited for the angst of the times. Listen to Norman F****** Rockwell on Spotify or Norman F******* Rockwell on Apple.
3. Caamp, “By and By”
This second album by the alternative folk trio from Athens, Ohio is almost perfect. It includes a range of styles, great melodies, thoughtful lyrics and earnest performances. There is no album filler here. Each of the 12 songs is good, and the combined listening experience always leaves me feeling better. Listen to By and By on Spotify or By and By on Apple.
2. Sturgill Simpson, “Sound & Fury”
The Kentucky-born alternative country singer is no stranger to “best of” lists. Two of his previous albums were critically acclaimed even as he was a country “outsider”. This is more guitar rock than anything labeled country music. The album is perfectly titled. It brings a ZZ Top aura and cites Eminem as a chief lyrical inspiration. Still enjoying again and again. Listen to Sound & Fury on Spotify or Sound & Fury on Apple.
1. Billie Eilish, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”
The 18-year-old Pirate O’Connell is a Los Angeles based phenomenon. She is the first artist born after the Millennium to really break through. She is now selling out very large arenas and has many artists seeking to collaborate with her. This debut album was recorded with her older brother Finneas in their family home in Los Angeles. It is an album of dressed-down, intimate pop. Eilish has created a new sound and the album is leading a triple life on rock and alternative charts in addition to pop. This is music that will live well beyond 2019. Listen to When We All Fall Asleep ... On Spotify or When We All Fall Asleep ... on Apple.
A Dozen Artists to Watch in 2020
Some of these artists have albums, but most are a series of singles or EP’s. You can hear songs from all of them at 2020 Artists to Watch Sampler or search their names on your preferred music platform or YouTube.
Eliza & the Delusionals. Aussie indie rockers with colorful lead Eliza Klatt. Widely played 2019 ingle “Just Exist” is a bit downbeat lyrically, though most of their music leans more upbeat. Latest single, Just Exist.
Tones and I. The Kids are Coming is the debut EP from Aussie indie-pop singer-songwriter Toni Watson. She sounds like a mix of K-flay and Billie Eilish with catchy tunes.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me. iDKHOW is an American musical duo based in Salt Lake City. Indie pop, rock. The duo was described as "the hottest unsigned band in the world" on the cover of Rock Sound in March 2018. Their first EP, 1981 was released this year.
Mallrat. 21-year-old Australian Gen Z musician/producer/rapper Grace Shaw crosses genres as Mallrat with her music, singing, rapping. Toured with Maggie Rogers. Her latest EP is Driving Music, which she notes as “a collection of floaty, teenage ‘drive around because there’s nothing else to do’ songs”. “Everything I do is about feelings.” Gentle and up-tempo harmonies and spirit.
Grace VanderWaal. The 15-year-old American singer-songwriter started by winning the 2016 season of America’s Got Talent. She is prolific in her production, with an EP in 2016, an album in 2017 and now an EP this year, Letters Vol 1. Often features a ukulele. She already has more than 3.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Dead Posey. Los Angeles based rock band led by Danyell Souza. Described as, “Mix grinding guitars, anthemic choruses, unyielding hooks and the unsettling voodoo vibe of the best Southern folklore, and you’ll get an idea of what Dead Posey are about.” Their latest single is “Fire Burning”, with an EP also available from 2018.
SHAED. Washington DC-based alternative electro pop trio of high school friends. The song, Trampoline, from their Melt EP is enough all by itself. Their latest single is “2 in a Million” with Steve Aoki and Sting.
Stef Chura. The Detroit-based singer/songwriter teamed with Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest) for her second album, Midnight, released in 2019. The vibe feels very much like a bedroom composer, though the songs serve as character studies on how people have affected her. She rocks a bit too, but much is more subdued.
The Wrecks. Five-piece indie rock band from CA known for high energy live shows. Building a catalogue with Panic Vertigo (2018 EP) as a follow-up to their debut album. Their latest single in 2019 is “Freaking Out”.
Michigander. The solo project by Michigan-native Jason Singer, says, “This new collection of songs is about uncertainty, loneliness, friendships, mental health, confusion, patience, faith, and family. It’s my narrative to “figuring it out.” These songs work in being both emotional and anthemic at the same time. His EP, Where Do We Go from Here was released in 2019.
Jordan Dennis. Up and coming Australian rapper based in Melbourne. Melodic and generally upbeat, and his self-released EP, HDMI1, takes him in more lyrical and rapping direction.
Flora Cash. Swedish-American indie/pop duo. Their music has been described “as delicate and fragile as the core values the two write for, truth, beauty and living for the moment in a modern world where everything is taken for granted.” Biggest song to date is “You’re Somebody Else”. Have toured with lovelytheband, Judah & the Lion, Superorganism and AJR. Now on their first headliner tour in late 2019 and into 2020. Their latest EP, Press, was released in 2019.
The Beaches. A Canadian alternative rock band from Manitoba who won the 2018 JUNO award for breakout artists. Their latest EP is The Professional. They played at Riotfest in Chicago to great reviews. They rock really well.