Livewire's Top Singles of 2019
There's one question that keeps me awake every night: Where would Livewire1350 be without singles? The answer is of course nowhere, so to return the favour, here's our top 5 singles of 2019, followed by our members' picks.
Jorja Smith (Feat. Burna Boy) - Be Honest
After her breakout year in 2018, Jorja Smith was uncharacteristically quiet throughout 2019 aside from a few stand out features. This was of course because she just wanted everyone to prepare for her eventual return, but no amount of time would prepare us for her latin-pop banger, 'Be Honest'. With one of the best guitar melodies of the year, 'Be Honest' boasts a bouncy beat, lovable lyrics and of course, sensational singing. All this alongside a fantastic Burna Boy feature makes for another classic Jorja Smith tune that will no doubt tide us over until she decides to bless us with the follow up to Lost & Found.
Mura Masa (Feat. Slowthai) - Deal Wiv It
Another late entry into the year's runnings, 'Deal Wiv It' presents a gap in the market that I never knew needed to be filled until now. After Mike Skinner's The Streets dropped off of the UK scene, it felt like a natural progression of a sound that defined the 2000's to transition away from alternative hip-hop to UK rap. But with 'Deal Wiv It', I realised how much we need that sound back, as this track brought the volatile, punk rap of Mike Skinner back and made it better than ever. With some of the meatiest guitars I've heard this year, 'Deal Wiv It' soars above Mura Masa's previous work as a banger of grand proportions. Tied with Slowthai's ridiculously charismatic vocal delivery and hilarious bars about gentrification in his hometown, this song isn't really for everyone, and if you don't like it, just deal wiv it.
Lil Nas X (Feat. Billy Rae Cyrus) - Old Town Road (Remix)
This song was 2019's shadow, you couldn't escape it, especially in radio. It makes it a miracle then that undoubtedly the biggest song of 2019 isn't terrible and is actually a fantastic fusion of two genres that have previously been opposite sides of a parallelogram. It's not so much the song itself that is amazing (although you gotta admit that beat is fantastic and Billy Rae kills it) it's what Lil Nas X represents. Kicked off of the country charts for seemingly no good reason, returns with Billy Rae Cyrus as his ace in the pocket and becomes the longest running 1# in chart history. Both hip-hop and country have had historically closed-minded audiences, staying in their lane and rejecting other genres, but 'Old Town Road' has taken a sledgehammer to that, creating a song that literally every human being can enjoy, and even if you might not be a fan of its core sound (which is brilliant by itself) you can't deny what it's done for music in 2019.
Loyle Carner (Feat. Jorja Smith) - Loose Ends
For whatever reason, up until recently, it seemed so rare for a UK rapper to express raw emotion and sadness on a track. In 2017, I believe Loyle Carner played a big part in abolishing this notion, and this couldn't be clearer on 'Loose Ends' a heartbreaking track about loss and the comfort that love can bring to grief. With such a specific subject, Loyle manages to bring it to the mainstream with not only a painfully beautiful piano melody but a handful of universally relatable anecdotes about his relationships and the loss that inevitably comes with it. The glue that holds all these elements together is the wonderful hook courtesy of (once again) Jorja Smith, sounding heartbroken through her wispy and broken vocals. The magnum opus of this track is undoubtedly Loyle's final verse. The drums drop out, leaving only Loyle, a piano and a metaphorical spotlight being turned towards him as delivers easily one of the best verses of his career and potentially the year.
Fontaines D.C - Boys in the Better Land
When it comes down to it, there's not much that can be said about this song without using the word banger, but I'm going to try. The guitar lead that kicks off the track and maintains throughout has all the hallmarks of a hit but it doesn't really get going until the rambunctious drums and crispy vocals come into it. At this point, your feet are definitely trying to tap along but not managing to keep up with the rhythm. See the Dublin boys knew this and kindly stripped back the chorus to allow for some easier time keeping. This little nugget of solace that the chorus brings allows the chaos of the rest of the track to make sense and suddenly every part of this high-energy slapper comes into focus, the lyrics, the drums and the trashing guitars all contribute to one singular sound, excitement. Fontaines D.C have been cropping up on everyone's radar's this year and they're only going to get bigger so if you need to introduce them to your friends to get them on the ground floor, show them this song and tell them it's an absolute banger.
Now onto some of our members' picks:
Wilma Vritra - Harness
With the melding of hip-hop and pop music enveloping our ears in 2019, there’s a very good chance that Wilma Vritra might’ve flown right over your head and I to that I would say, shame on you. ‘Harness’ was the first I’d heard of the rapper/producer duo and it is easily the quirkiest, most atmospheric and most pleasant R&B/hip-hop track of the year. Is it wrong to put a song in my top 5 from one instrument alone? Because the closing saxophone riff just really tickles a part of my brain I didn’t know existed as ‘Harness’ served as a phenomenal introduction to an artist that soundtracked a lot of my 2019 and will be keenly following from now on.
Slowthai - Gorgeous
Next up is another new artist but one that most definitely hasn’t flown over many heads this year as Slowthai remains very much the talking point of the UK at the moment, for good reason. The track ‘Gorgeous’ doesn’t represent the hard hitting and punchy side that many people will know Slowthai for, and instead is a track that is dripping in nostalgia and sees him maintaining his classic energy over a mellow and beautifully sampled beat. The anecdotes and stories that Slowthai effortlessly weaves are so compelling and genuine that it’s difficult not to smile throughout.
The Chemical Brothers - Gotta Keep On
The Chemical Brothers have pretty much invaded my life, going from car rides in year 4 listening to ‘Galvanise’ to 2019 where ‘Gotta Keep On’ became my go-to song for washing up, showering, working, walking, you name it. It has such an infectious energy and you’ll be waving some body part or two without even noticing it, making it such an easy pick for my third favourite track released this year.
Tropical [Frick] Storm - Braindrops
I guess 2019 was the year for me discovering new artists as my runner up for favourite track of the year is once again a new addition to my ever growing family. It was a cloudy monday afternoon when head of music Callum ‘Resistant Shins’ McWilliams sent me ‘Braindrops’ by Tropical [Frick] Storm and I honestly can’t say my life has been the same since. Every surface I touch feels hot, I struggle to breathe out of my nose properly, everytime I close my eyes I see Gareth Liddiard’s face and I really couldn’t be happier. This song is all kinds of cursed and has made me worried to have kids but It’s still in the running for one of the best song released this year. Listen to it, you’ll love it or hate it.
FKA Twigs - Cellophane
My number 1 pick however is not as fun & games as ‘Braindrops’, as FKA Twigs provided I would say around 70% of my cries this year and most of that is down to the track ‘Cellophane’. What is there to say about this track that hasn’t been said already. It’s quite easily one of the most vulnerable pieces of music I’ve ever heard and that clicked with me in a way that nothing else did. Her vocals sound equal parts overpowering and understated throughout the song and the wonderful piano melody just breaks my heart every time. To hear a song so clinically stripped of joy is a powerful thing and ‘Cellophane’ represents that, making it my favourite song of the year.
Clairo - Bags
Clairo came through this year with her strongest song to date. 'Bags' provides a stream-of-consciousness lyricism with a soothing, minimalist production. This track marks Clairo’s departure from the bedroom pop archetype, towards a new sense of artistic vibrancy and freedom.
Alex G - Gretel
'Gretel' radiates a beautiful assortment of lofi indie rock with swirling lo-fi experimentation. Reminiscent of Alex G’s earlier releases, this song melts into a cacophony of pitched-up vocals and hypnotic, deadpan synthesizers. The continual building and unravelling of each layer provides an interesting and heartfelt single from the Philadelphian artist.
Better Oblivion Community Centre - Dylan Thomas
Better Oblivion create a mental image of some dystopian soap opera with their single 'Dylan Thomas'. The conflicting arguments between Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst unveil a shared loneliness the characters feel. Through anthemic guitar solos and flexing lyrical prowess, 'Dylan Thomas' provides a formidable folk-rock exhibition.
Resavoir - Plantesy
'Plantesy' translates a lush serenity through its emotional piano base. The brass section swoops over the track with its many competing voices fighting to be dominant. The amalgamation of all the layers create a soundscape which is evocative, engaging and decorative from start to finish.
Oso Oso - Impossible game
Oso Oso are leading the 90’s revivalism with their track 'Impossible Game'. Built over a gleaming pop rock guitar riff, the lyrical substance washes through feelings of being down on your luck and needing to take a step back. Whilst being melancholic in its content, 'Impossible Game' represents the propensity for being hopeful and overcoming the inevitable complications life throws at you.
The Lumineers - Gloria
This song is deep! Continuing the trend of songs that sound happy but are actually incredibly sad, this song deals with the consequences of addiction for the people around the addict, and it handles the topic extremely well. The lyrics, such as “I would lie awake and pray you don’t lie awake for me” and “Gloria will you just decide, Gloria there’s easier ways to die” are upsetting and haunting. The music video is equally hard to watch and the major guitar chords strike an oddly heartfelt tone to the song. It’s easy to listen to and not hear the lyrics, but the message in this one is important and relevant to today’s society.
Iann Dior & Trippie Red - Gone girl
My brother introduced me to this song. We have completely different music tastes but I have to admit that this is definitely one of my most listened to this year. I love how fast paced but also chilled out this song is and the rap verses from Ian and Trippie are equally satisfying to me. I just really like it and I can’t really explain why. The song starts off with the chorus, a trend which hasn’t made a huge appearance in 2019 (so a welcomed change) and talks about falling in love at the wrong time (“I fell in love same time that you’re falling apart/”I should’ve known, thought I saw a sign in the stars”). It may not be Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but definitely give this one a listen as it tells a good story all the same.
Orla Gartland - Flatline
I seriously dig Orla’s music and this single is one of her best yet. It’s so upbeat but the lyrics are dark and sad, which is a thing I love especially in pop music. The guitar and drums are a perfect match and it’ll be stuck in your head for days in the best way. Also discussing an unhealthy relationship, the lyrics are sad and self-aware at the same time (“I pay a high price, I give myself away”/”You’d never think twice to ever do the same”) and hit you right in the heart if you have ever been in a similar situation. We need more pop stars like Orla.
The Japanese House - Something Has to Change
This song is so soothing and catchy. Continuing the synth-y pop trend, this is one of my favourite tunes of the year. Although the chorus is perhaps repetitive, this was most likely intentional as the song discusses making the same mistakes in an unhealthy relationship and being hurt in the same way over and over again as a result. Lyrics “it’s the same face, your heart keeps breaking in the same place”, make for a powerful message about the importance of breaking the cycle when in an unhealthy relationship or situation, and the change in sound for The Japanese House was a welcome and pleasant surprise. This one is definitely a banger.
Conan Gray - Comfort Crowd
This song is sweet, so endearing and very lyrically unique. “Welling up in tears as I lay upon your belly” may be the best description of a hard moment in a friendship that I’ve heard lyrically this year. The opening lines “this hurt that I’m holding’s getting heavy, but imam keep a smile on my shoulders ‘till I’m sweaty” sets up the path to a fulfilling and reassuring song. Also, Conan Gray has the pop-y, synth-y indie-y vibe thing going and it completely shines through in this song. The aesthetic of the entire melody as well as the music video (which is extremely creepy and juxtaposes the message of the song, which I enjoy) really set the single up to be a perfect listen.
Dry Cleaning - Magic Of Meghan
Probably best understood live, Magic of Meghan is one of the best singles out this year and also is on one of the best EPs this year. Flo’s conversational chatter creates something natural, and something unique. The vocal woops unnerve and the speedy, choppy guitar carries the song forwards while the rhythm section makes something you can really dance to. It swirls, and spits, snarls and kicks – threatening, disorientating and still really quite beautiful.
Skinny Pelembe - No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish
The production of this single is tight. The smack of the snare, accompanied by bright and breezy vocals open, before the frantic percussion welcomes a fuzzy, warbling bass. This track is angry, but doesn’t lack any grace in doing so. It stands out, not because it’s catchy, but because it is such a well-constructed song which brings in a smorgasbord of soundscapes. You can hear, reggae, jazz, surf and punk (more The Clash than Sex Pistols mind you). It is both heady, and dancey – it is a really impressive track.
Black Midi - Talking Heads
Black Midi’s mythology grew faster than them, with press and labels keen to get hold of them in equal speed. They bucked the trend of putting their singles on their album. They preferred a low level social media account, and an aloof approach to marketing. Talking Heads, despite this, is a track that requires at least 30 seconds of silence after listening to digest it. Opening with New Wave, jerky guitar chatter, it dips in and out of a darker, heavier, angular motif before returning to the jangle. The musicianship of this band is astounding, the effortlessness threads itself throughout. Clocking in at a radio-friendly three minutes, it is the perfect (and probably most palatable as well as accurate) Black Midi representation so far.
The Comet is Coming - Summon The Fire
The landmark track of The Comet is Coming’s brilliant album, 'Summon the Fire' is dancey and powerful. It has the hallmarks of every good single, the tenor sax of Shabaka Hutchings rips through all typical jazz, preferring a vicious and raw approach. The bassy synth could blow down any house if loud enough. It is confident, punchy and brave.
Fontaines D.C - Liberty Belle
‘You know I love that violence that you get around here, that kind of ready steady violence, that violent how do you do’ Rings out to a drum solo in one of the most remarkable drum-singer solos to date. At a drum stop, the guitar speeds in and it’s at this point something special happens. Like a shot of adrenaline, Liberty Bell can kick-start any harsh morning. In sixth gear, it’s spirited, raucous and everything else a single should be. The melody is so incredibly addictive and yet also not clean. It’s raw and candid, exuding brashful youthfulness in spades. The stop-start breaks it up, and it finishes so cleanly. It’s short, sweet, and scrappy, in all the best ways.
Take a Daytrip (Feat. Slowthai, Rico Nasty, Ice Cold Bishop) - Lighthouse
A late release this year that messed up my lists, but it was worth it. Everything about this track is here to give you an attitude problem and you’re going to love it. The beat is somewhat low key, but slaps hard, paired with harsh and angsty flows of Slowthai, Rico Nasty and Ice Cold Bishop, this track will have you swaggering down the road, hood up, feeling absolutely unstoppable.
Easy Life (Feat. Arlo Parks) - Sangria
A silky smooth number from two breakout artists tipped to go big. It’s a slow-paced tune but the chorus is incredibly catchy nonetheless, the chemistry and harmonies between Murray of Easy Life and Arlo Parks makes it an intriguing and endearing listening about two dysfunctional lovers. The song is crafted beautifully, the transition into Arlo Parks verse is perfect, despite it essentially just being a small pause, but it completely changes the energy of the song. Stunning, soulful and dreamy. Very promising years ahead for both artists.
Slowthai & Denzel Curry - Psycho
It has well and truly been a ‘Thai-Curry’ year. Both putting in stellar performances on their respective albums, but also stunting on other artists singles and finally coming together to put out one of the hardest tunes of 2019. The manic violins in the background playing over the ground shaking bass line with Curry and Slowthai delivering their bars with intense energy. After hearing this one you’ll want to have a little sit down just to recover before you listen again and go absolutely nuts.
Mura Masa (Feat. Slowthai) - Deal Wiv It
Their previous collaboration ‘Doorman’ was a highlight on Slowthai’s debut album Nothing Great About Britain, ‘Deal Wiv It’ follows in the same vain. It’s a banger. A grimey bop of a song, with an infectious bassline that will leave you having a one man mosh pit in your bedroom. There’s something magic about these two together.
Denzel Curry - Bulls On Parade (Rage Against The Machine Cover)
Yes it’s a cover, but it’s absolutely incredible. Denzel is a hip-hop artist by trade, so to do a metal song, live, as the frontman of a band, spitting bars from his song ‘SIRENZ’ over screaming guitars and thunderous percussion after nailing the Rage style vocals. There isn’t a thing this man can’t do. An outstanding live performance and proof that Denzel is one of music’s current greatest prodigies. Best single of the year hands down.
Loyle Carner (Feat. Jorja Smith) - Loose Ends
I’ve never been reticent to praise Loyle Carner, but in 'Loose Ends', a poignant reflection on adolescence, depression, and needing support, he once again makes a song which feels personal and universal, which captures so much about life while managing to be a genuinely great song. It’s truly beautiful and features a fantastic performance from Jorja Smith, who continues to stake her claim as one of pop’s great superstars. It’s catharsis for audience and writer, the best single of the year.
Sharon Van Etten - Seventeen
With haunting guitar riffs, atmospheric drums, and a dominating vocal performance by Sharon Van Etten, this song is a brilliant reflection on youth and how we see our futures. A Heartlands rock vibe combined with indie mentality allows Van Etten to highlight the melancholic duality of being young, as a song which finds itself in the middle of a Venn diagram of tragedy and hope is one of the most beautiful of the year.
Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missles
Sam Fender is a star in the vein of other classic Northern rock bands like The Strokes or the Arctic Monkeys, who has deservedly picked up the nickname the Geordie Springsteen. 'Hypersonic Missiles', like the album of the same name, feels like a very earnest and real capture of what a lot of people are living with now. Fender is special compared to a lot of mainstream pop artists and this song is the perfect summary of his sound – a mix of pain and euphoria, wrapped in anthemic power straight out the 80s. Also, he’s a fellow Newcastle fan, so even if this was awful, I’d put it on the list.
Lil Nas X (Feat. Billy Rae Cyrus - Old Town Road (Remix)
The undeniable song of the summer, a straight up banger made even better by the story around it. With the American country music scene rejecting it, the unexpected hero of the story was Billy Ray Cyrus as he ended up featuring in a song that is pretty much the definition of a tune. The best part was that it gave Lil Nas X to the world, and long may he tweet.
AJ Tracey - Ladbroke Grove
The song that gave us the iconic “yo it’s the hyperman set”, this was pumped out of every car in the country at some point this summer and became an instant garage classic. Right now, AJ Tracey is one of UK rap’s great champions and this might be his defining song, an absolute banging hit which has never failed to hype up a room (still no match for Alex’s 'Thiago Silva').
Jenna and the Charmers - Never Will I Marry
'Never Will I Marry' by Jenna and the Charmers is a must hear. The sound is jamming, but it is also emotional; the lyrics being about wanting to be alone. Jenna’s voice is impressive and fits nicely into the minimal accompaniment that does not crowd over her. Whether you are into Jazz or not, this tune will get you moving.
Gretje Angell - Love is Here to Stay
'Love is Here to Stay' by Gretje Angell returns to the Samba form of Jazz taken from Brazilian styles. Hearing this song on the car radio, I got home in a flurry to search whose tender tones had wafted out the speakers. Always in control, Angell keeps it simple and pleasant, letting the guitar and percussion nestle themselves in with her smooth vocals.
IU - Blueming
'Blueming' is by Korean pop-singer/songwriter IU. One of my favorite artist in- and outside Korea, IU has a unique way of blending R&B or Folk into her compositions. “Blueming” is her latest single from her new EP that continues her journey as an artist to be taken seriously. Unlike her usual ballads, this track is danceable but also low-key enough to study by and not get distracted (well, sort of…).
The Bird and the Bee - Ain't Talking 'bout Love
'Ain’t Talking ‘bout Love' is from one of old favorites, The Bird and the Bee. Already familiar with them, this track comes from an album with equally good songs that showoff the electronic-pop that is a staple for this duo. Always approachable, this group never rejects new followers.
Vendredi sur Mer - Ecoute Cherie
'Ecoute Cherie' is by France’s Vendredi sur Mer. Stumbling on it by accident, I was instantly taken in by the original pop vibes that had a hard beat and stirring vocals. And though the music video is risqué, the cloud-nine mood washes your worries away. If you want to get into international pop, this is any easy way to sneak over the border.