The 2010s have been an immense musical decade in terms of the sheer amount of stellar music released. This last year of the decade is no exception.
From delicate ballads to dance-floor scorchers, there were incredible tunes to be had across the sonic spectrum. In my book, these are the 19 best:
19: “Mr. Business” by Danista is a righteous dancehall screed against greed in a music industry perpetually looking to take advantage of young, naive artists.
18: “about her. again.” by Son Little is a deeply heartfelt and forlorn love-ballad-waltz. Its dynamic soul begins quietly and builds over the course of the track.
17: “These Days (feat. Kasien)” by Benny Mails broods from under the surface with a laid-back vibe reminiscent of the golden age of hip-hop.
16: “I’m Not in Love” by Kelsey Lu is a cover of the ‘70s hit by 10cc. It’s a surprisingly faithful rendition that had me going back to listen to the original, which, as it turns out, was astonishingly experimental for the soft rock hit that it was.
15: “I Didn’t Know – Dub Version” by Skinshape is a feel-good little ditty reminiscent of a car ride through the countryside on a lovely summer day.
14: “Body” by Julia Jacklin tells the story of a woman awakening from a broken relationship, her lovely voice backed by a deep and darkly trance-inducing rhythm section.
13: “Lantern Flies in Mist” by Black Taffy propels itself slowly forward with a super-deep bassline underscoring Asian strings, augmented as the tune builds by lush, swelling orchestral string pads.
12: “The Barrel” by Aldous Harding is a jaunty folk-rock number over which Harding sings a kind of poetry I don’t yet understand, but it conjures an atmosphere that I appreciate.
11: “In Search of Balance” by Reginald Omas Mamode IV is a secular spiritual.
10: “Tumbleweed” by Wild Belle just one of their many great tunes released this year. In fact, their album “Everybody One of a Kind” is well worth a listen. This tune is sweetly quiet, reggae-influenced, forlorn love ballad.
9: “YO LE LLEGO” by J Balvin and Bad Bunny rolls along with an oblong bassline that pulls and pushes at the trap beats and salsa riffs with an undeniably infectious groove.
8: “Babylon Raid” by Mungo’s Hi Fi featuring Eva Lazarus takes a classic reggae tune by Max Romeo riffing on the “Three Blind Mice” and drags it into a sweaty dancehall party being busted for noise complaints. Totally understandable given the level of the bass on this tune.
7: “Chase The Money” by E-40, Quavo, Roddy Ricch, A$ap Ferg and ScHoolboy Q gets my head nodding every time with its driving 808 bass and sprinkler high-hats. The recurring, sing-songy chorus adds a catchy hook over the subtly looping melody.
6: “Nice Things” by Tank and The Bangas begins with a moody loop, but when the swinging beats and bouncing bass drop, it’s on! The happy-fun raps over the somewhat melancholy melody make for a sweet contrast.
5: “Soft on Me” by Lily Hayes is a beautifully mellow song backed by quiet electric guitar and other subtle elements. The melody of the delicate love song sets a tone suggesting a young relationship still feeling out its contours.
4: “All Day Swimming” by Ivy Lab begins with an ethereal synth drenched in reverb, which quickly gives way to the warm embrace of a super-deep bass and a beat the feels almost edible. Meanwhile, an other-worldly R&B vocal-hook periodically drops in to round out the tune.
3: “Raggamuffin (feat. Mr Williamz)” by SHY FX rolls in with a bubbling rimshot/kick beat that gets the body moving by itself. Then Williamz begins toasting over a propulsive bassline and it’s over for anyone who wasn’t already on the dance floor. When the hook drops, the bass also falls an octave and the whole place goes mad. I could do without the violent lyrics, but sometimes the soundclash makes for something so frenetic that it’s undeniable.
2: “Come On In” by Lady Wray is an understated but uplifting gem of throwback soul. The minimalist grove slinks along behind Wray’s gorgeous croon, inviting her love to join her.
1: “Boasty (feat. Idris Elba)” by Wiley, Stefflon Don and Sean Paul is a dance floor filler. Its minimalist soca/dancehall beat is thrust forward by a huge bouncing bassline and bubbling vocals by the all-star cast of characters.
If you like this list and want to dive deeper, I’ve also put together my playlist of The 100 Best Tracks of 2019.
Jake Trussell’s musical interests lie in the liminal space between underground experimentation and mainstream accessibility. He believes that no genre is off limits as long as the music is magic. He wears various hats as a designer, writer, DJ and music producer who has staged experimental audio-visual events in alternative venues, held residencies at a number of clubs around Boston and Chicago, founded music blogs and record labels, and toured internationally as a DJ and musician. From time to time he can be caught lecturing on music, design or the impact of creatives on the economy.