I am personally more of an album kind of guy but not stupid enough to realise that it takes great songs to fill them. “Duh”! Though I have to say while I would love to reel off a playlist of all the amazing songs this year that inspired me, I fear I would be here forever. Therefore, I’m going to get straight to the point and name the six tracks that said something about my listening habits this year. Enjoy!
Ravenna – ‘Mama’.
Under the guise of an otherworldy R&B soundtrack and her soulful voice, New York-based Indian American singer Raveena takes the listener on a journey to hell and back (so to speak) on her conceptual based debut album Lucid. It’s an album that peels back the layers of Raveena’s pain and the heartache she bottled up as a teenager, before eventually changing tact giving rise to the power of love and self acceptance and its healing power. That amazing arc of pain and healing is no better felt by the time we reach the song Mama. (It’s further dealt with in Floating and the album’s final track Petal.) For me, while the song is a personal dedication to Ravenna’s mother, it is an entirely relatable song to draw parallels to our own mothers and also in my case, my dear mother-in-law who passed away in recent years, who led a rewarding yet at times trying existence.
Lana Del Rey – ‘The Greatest’.
Those who know me, know I love Lana Del Rey; and what makes her so fucking irresistible is that she can swoon on just about everything she does – and make you believe in her existential dream world. That said, arguably one of the best songs released this year is Del Rey’s upsettingly beautiful The Greatest. Instantly recognisable, wrapped up nicely as a pop rock folk ballad with plenty of #Lana-ism, the spectacular track comes from the sixth studio album Norman Fucking Rockwell; and hits upon issues about poltical anxiety, climate change and even celebrity culture: “The culture is lit, and if this is it‚ I had a ball / I guess that I’m burned out after all.” In short, The Greatest looms as a song that signals our longing and uncertainty in moving forward, which is why it makes it an overwhelming beautiful piece of work.
The insanely huge track that was far from what you’d expect to be a number one hit was Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. With its trap-pop synth bass and Billie Eilish’s breathy vocals, I can’t tell you how many times I was caught in traffic in my car making weird dance moves. If anything my shame and embarrassment allowed me to roll down my window and exclaim “Duh’! The effect Eilish has had on pop culture this year was second to none. In fact, the dark stirrings of this Gen Z singer-songwriter has put the music industry on notice. Moreover, on your way out this year, check out the completely surreal music video, arguably the best thing about this aloof and somewhat austere figure.
Angie McMahon – ‘Keeping Time’.
I have an extraordinary amount of time for someone like Angie McMahon who affirms her faith in wanting to ”rock out” like Springsteen, Neil Young and Bon Iver. Her debut album Salt is a wonderful example of what modern rock should be, with McMahon’s intoxicating jangly electric riffs and reverb tinged rough and ready guitar. Of course, what brings all these elements together is without a doubt her extraordinarily cathartic songwriting chops and her heavenly raw voice which often draws wonderful comparisons to Florence Welch. With that in mind, I can’t go passed McMahon’s Keeping Time as one of my favourite songs of the year.
Sharon Van Etten – ‘Seventeen’.
With the release of her new album Remind Me Tomorrow back in January of this year, everyone immediately fell in love with the new Van Etten. Some called her reinvention a stroke of genius, others saw it as a natural evolution. But whatever we may believe, Van Etten on her fifth album changed how she went about being a musician and songwriter. With plenty of heart, which Van Etten has abundance of, she circled around old themes but also found something new to say too.
One of the songs that has plenty of heart is the album’s standout track Seventeen. It sits poised amongst a bunch of other strong emotive tracks on the album, in which Seventeen for my mind feels the most contemplative of the lot. In the song Van Etten looks back at a time in her life when she was poised for the future, a time when she felt free. But with freedom comes a scary lack of certainty, something that Van Etten knows all too well about, as she reflects upon her experiences and talks to her younger herself throughout the song. “I see you so uncomfortably alone / I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown.” Seventeen is truly one of the year’s most beautiful songs.
Big Thief – ‘Not’.
The American indie rock-folk band Big Thief has been actively invading our consciousness since 2016. It’s incredible to think that just a few months they released their fourth studio album called Two Hands. It comes hot off the heels of their third album U.F.O.F which was released earlier this year also to critical acclaim. Two Hands, sees this indie rock folk quartet combine some of the finest simmering folk rock music and intimate songwriting I’ve heard in a while. It’s arguably the best thing they have recorded thus far. One of the album’s indisputable standouts is Not – a lively grungy distorted guitar driven track that bursts to life midway through the song with an epic guitar solo by frontwoman Adrianne Lenker. Moreover, it’s a hauntingly beautiful protest song that finds Lenker listing all the things that aren’t the problem. It’s like she just can’t pinpoint the overwhelming frustration that she feels or the things that are worrying her. On the other hand it almost feels like its not just one thing but everything!?