How’s 2019 been treating you?
If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been selecting six tracks every week for the past three months, quipping and commenting on each, and adding the lot to a Spotify playlist. Now that the first quarter of the year has come and gone, I can call those accumulated tracks what they are: the 79 best songs of the year, so far.
And, of course, I’ve got six more songs to add this week, to finish Q1 off in style.
Jlin – “No Name”
This brilliant footwork producer/DJ out of Gary, Indiana splinters and reroutes her beats till her tracks unfold with the improvisational inevitability of a great jazz solo, and if that makes “No Name” sound intimidating, well, relax, because it’s an Adult Swim commission. The video-game melody here burbles in what may be the poppiest tones Jlin’s ever put her name on, though her impeccable sense of rhythmic logic remains intact. It’s a trifle, sure, but that’s kinda what’s so remarkable about it: Not all geniuses can do trifles.
Billie Eilish – “Bad Guy”
A “make your girlfriend mad type, might seduce your dad type” toys with a “just can’t get enough guy, chest always so puffed guy,” bobbing with goofed-up swag over a over a stripped-down house pulse, then a synth hook veers around like a frantic bat trapped in your attic. With Eilish’s Spotify numbers making Ariana Grande look like Rita Ora and the aged and uncomprehending starting to wonder why, I'm tempted to provide a reorienting ’90s alt reference. (Fiona Apple’s drama-kid smarts coupled with Shirley Manson’s performative goth-pop?) But really it’s more like Eilish is out to prove that boy nihilists like Tyler, the Creator or Eminem would've been more fun if they’d ditched the aggro ego. Are girls actually better at being bad guys? To quote Eilish herself: “Duh.”
Rosalía/J Balvin – “Con Altura”
If my skimpy Spanish isn’t failing me too badly, the lyric here essentially adds up to “live fast, die young, stay high.” But even the most hapless gringo monoglot can hear how enjoyably the stars’ voices—flamenco-pop queen Rosalía’s nimble and fluty, neo-reggaeton chart titan Balvin’s gruff and bullish—ride that artfully overhauled boom-didi-boom-boom.
Modest Mouse – “Poison the Well”
A big old alt-rock anthem like they don’t make much anymore. Giant shards of guitar glint with enticing menace as perpetual bad-vibe generator Isaac Brock, at 43 still recalling a kid yelping, “I’m up already!” at his mom on a school day, channels his bottomless discontent outward at the oppressors and dupes who run the world, his lyrics both a cry for solidarity and a protest that it’s not his fault. Heavy, rousing, hard.
Lil Uzi Vert – “Free Uzi”
Title aside, you don’t have to be totally clued in to the intricacies of this Philly MC’s longstanding drama with his label to enjoy this excuse to just go off over a hot beat. With pitched up vocals accentuating his manic glee, Uzi free-associates over DJ L Beats’ “Gangway Instrumental,” getting off some of the best lines about sucking dick in recent rap. “Gave me head till my shit, um, decapitate” is one way to put it. And his girl’s excuse when her mother catches her on her knees? "Mama, I'm just doin' the Kaepernick."
Peter Perrett – “I Want Your Dreams”
Well, someone’s picking up the pace. The onetime Only Ones frontman released his debut solo album in 2017, a full 35 years after his beloved band called it quits, and now he’s got a second due in June. (As you might guess, he’s had a rough time of it along the way.) This ominous intimation of things to come stalks along with purposeful menace, Perrett’s voice as always draping itself heavily over each lyric.
A couple quick housekeeping notes: There are only 77 songs on the playlist because two of these tracks—Jlin and Uzi—aren’t on Spotify, but I’ll add ’em if and when they get there. Also, the songs aren't arranged on the playlist in order of preference, but chronologically, based on when they were added.
And if you'd like to catch up, here are the previous 12 singles round-ups from 2019.