Growing up, listening to the radio was really my only way of discovering new music. Stations like WPLJ, 99X, WABC, WNEW and WLIR were my lifelines to all sorts of new songs and artists. Nowadays, finding new music has become more of a chore, quite frankly, and requires accessing different platforms like Spotify, iTunes, SiriusXM, YouTube, music blogs, and the good ol’ radio. While radio (especially WFUV) still helps plug new artists and songs, I like to cast a wider net and tend to poke around Spotify to do the discovery work myself. Or I might come across something new featured in a movie, TV show or commercial. Either way, I always keep my ears open for the next new thing – because you never know where it’s hiding!
Below are the 20 best songs I discovered this year. I’ve included videos for each along with a little commentary. Have a listen and I hope you enjoy. Happy holidays and all the best in 2019!
01. “High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves
Kacey deviates a bit from her country music roots with more of a pure pop sound. This song off her “Golden Hour” album was a favorite in our household this past summer. Love the Tame Impala-sounding guitar lick that kicks things off.
02. “Lay It on Me” – Vance Joy
From his second album, this Australian singer/songwriter delivers a simple yet powerful cut that begins with clean acoustic guitar and ends with powerful horns. Oh, and did I mention this guy can really sing?! A bright future indeed.
03. “New Light” – John Mayer
Following up on his critically-acclaimed effort from last year, Mr. Mayer delivers this one-off single that quickly became one of his top 5 songs on Spotify. Pure pop bliss that Rolling Stone said crafted “a steady groove reminiscent of Eighties blue-eyed soul and tinged with disco guitars.” And a fun video, too.
04. “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts” – Lake Street Dive
Named after a street with many dive bars in Minneapolis, this Boston-based quintet first made a name for itself back in 2014. Now with their sixth album, lead singer Rachael Price belts out this toe-tapping number that hits on their two primary influences: classic pop and swing-era jazz. As one band member put it, “We want it to sound like the Beatles and Motown had a party together.” Amen.
05. “Forgive You” – Leon Bridges
Mr. Bridges, a soul singer out of Fort Worth, Texas, followed up his 2015 debut with this year’s “Good Thing” album. This track hit me the hardest even though it wasn’t tabbed as one of the three singles. Guess I just like the slower tempo that really allows his vocals to shine.
06. “Better Now” – Post Malone
OK, time to include something that the younger crowd may actually know. It was hard to escape this song on the radio over the summer. Born in Syracuse, NY and raised in Texas, Austin Richard Post apparently used a rap name generator to get “Malone.” So I gave it a shot too and it spit out “Sniper Tommy C.” Pretty dope.
07. “Graffiti” – CHVRCHES
This synth-pop trio out of Glasgow, dropped this powerful number back in May on their third album. Like the Leon Bridges song at #5, hard to believe this wasn’t one of the four singles they released. And in case you’re wondering about the odd spelling of their name, they needed to differentiate themselves from actual churches in online search results.
08. “All My Friends” – The Revivalists
An eight-piece band out of New Orleans, The Revivalists hit it big this year with their 4th album. Described as a “roots rock” group, this tune also adds a big bunch of brass and really highlights their affinity for soulful blues. A great “roll down the windows and drive” kinda song.
09. “Wait by the River” – Lord Huron
This waltz-like gem highlights the LA-based band’s third album. As music blog, Uproxx, wrote, “the track sounds like something you’d slowly sway back and forth to in close proximity with a special someone at a ’50s high school dance, like a more doo-wop Fleet Foxes.” Exactly.
10. “The River” – KT Tunstall
Welcome back, KT! Haven’t heard much from her since she had songs on my 2006 and 2007 collections. Truth is she’s been going strong ever since, but I must’ve not been paying attention. This track is the lead single off her sixth album and was described by NPR Music as “an inspirational, anthemic, emotionally-charged song that puts KT’s immediately recognizable voice at center stage.” Bingo.
11. “That’s a Lifestyle” – Dirty Projectors
Founded and anchored by David Longstreth, these indie rockers gave us this hard-to-describe sounding tune and its companion hand-drawn animated video. For the longest time, I couldn’t make out what the heck they’re singing with those high-pitched word jabs. According to Google, he’s singing “That’s a product, that’s a brand, that’s a lifestyle.” That’s some kind of a cool (and definitely odd) song!
12. “Throwback” – Jim James
My Morning Jacket frontman, Jim James, goes #TBT on us and yearns for the days before social media when we lived a less complicated, more enriching way of life. Music blog, Pitchfork, nailed it when they described the song’s sound as “capturing the action with all the corroded fidelity of a cassette bootleg of a live radio session. The ache in his voice says it all: This isn’t about nostalgia, it’s a cry for help.”
13. “Lottery” – Jade Bird
Jade Elizabeth Bird from Hexham, England only just turned 21 and is already making a splash worldwide. WFUV and other public radio stations helped fuel her success by putting this song on heavy rotation. Rolling Stone described her vocals as “raw and robust.” Kinda reminds me of a young Dolly Parton, one of her biggest influences.
14. “Rings” – Pinegrove
Gotta send a shout out to my old roommate, Swetters, for introducing me to this group. Formed in 2010 out of Montclair, NJ, their third studio album included this lead track that grabbed me immediately. Simple guitars, drums and vocals all add up to a good ol’ atmospheric folk rock song that sounds like it was recorded live on the very first take. You really feel like you’re in the studio with them.
15. “Dancing in the Street” – Stephen Day
All credit for this find goes to Laurie. Relative newcomer, Nashville-based Stephen Day, delivers a pop nugget reminiscent of his biggest musical influence, John Mayer. Traces of Michael Bublé, too. And maybe a hint of Journey with those references to streetlights and people? Okay, I’ll stop now.
16. “Waiting for You” – The Aces
Newcomers, The Aces, are four girls out of Provo, Utah who have been playing together since they were pre-teens. According to the band, a friend told them back in 5th grade that a band name had to consist of a color and an object. So they followed the equation and “The Blue Aces” was born (they only just recently dropped Blue). Off their debut effort, this piece lays down a bass-driven finger snapper complete with a sing-along chorus and hand claps.
17. “Hallelujah” – Years & Years
This electro-pop trio out of London, caught my ear this year with a dance number that reminded me a lot of Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson. One of those great songs to work out to and hard not to wanna break out into some serious Dad dance moves. Not something you’d want to see; watch the video instead 🙂
18. “Backwards Women” – The Jayhawks
Originally written with The Wild Feathers over 5 years ago but never recorded, this track features that trademark Jayhawks’ guitar sound and harmonies. But the title seems a little off during the recent #MeToo movement. A classic case of a song showing its age. Don’t they know the future is female?!
19. “Lifer” – Wye Oak
A girl/guy duo from Baltimore, Wye Oak got its name from Maryland’s former state tree. This is their sixth album since forming in 2006 and includes this quieter, more reflective tune that calms and invigorates all at once. Jenn Wasner sings lead vocals and plays electric or acoustic guitar, while Andy Stack plays both drums and keyboards, playing the drums with his feet and right hand, and the bass line with his left hand.
20. “Sweet Scorched Earth” – Eels
Another comeback artist that delivered a strong new album this year is Eels, who you may remember best from his “Electro-Shock Blues” album in 1998. Essentially a one-man band with session helpers, Mark Oliver Everett (or just simply “E”) delivered a lovely, orchestral love song in this era of devastating climate change and pollution.