The second annual Only Memories retrospective has been a sordid and shabby affair. Threats have been made. Money has changed hands. The bribery has been off the scale to be honest, certainly compared to last year, where the only rewards to be had were a single crumpled tenner from the pocket of Frankie Cosmos (who offered more in pity than anything else). I blame Lana’s inclusion, the mansion and the Porche really weren’t necessary but they have been much appreciated. What’s more, they secured her a much coveted spot in the top 25 songs that literally 12 people on the internet are waiting for, fingernails bitten, sedatives at the ready to cope with the unbearable excitement, finally presented here in no particular order. See if you can guess who didn’t have to pay…
Deerhunter – What Happens To People?
“Old lady, cover your branches, winter is coming, beware”… Deerhunter managed to make the coming apocalypse sound both inevitable and almost seductive this year, and nowhere more so than on “What Happens To People?” A nervous, haunting piano figure runs through the verses, as Bradford Cox finds ever more laconic ways of answering the title phrase, while the chorus steps back into a kind of rarified, prog like bliss. Glacial, ominous and beautiful.
Jessica Pratt – Poly Blue
Discovering Jessica Pratt for the first time this year was a revelation, like hearing something astonishing beamed out of an alternate version of the 1950s. “Poly Blue” is the best of the “Quiet Signs” LP: delicate and melodic, its perfection grows out of its simplicity, but also the fact that it sounds completely unlike anything else around.
Weyes Blood – Everyday
Grandiose in the very best way, “Everyday” was the highpoint of this year’s all conquering “Titanic Rising’ LP. A tale of romantic vulnerability, its power comes from its sheer emotional clout, channelling the melodrama of Abba’s classic hits with its lush harmonies and pounding piano. The world is finally catching up with the talent of Natalie Merring and “Everyday” shows exactly why.
H Grimace – She’s In A State
H Grimace released just one song this year but they made it count, with this austere, brittle yet subtly tuneful post punk masterpiece. They wear their seriousness on their sleeves but “She’s In A State’ never feels pompous. Instead, this is a perfect balance of art and pop, a bruised, ecstatic triumph from one of our best young bands.
Big Fan – Type Quickly
Gorgeous country pop reminiscent of Evan Dando at his most wistful, this tale of a friendship ruined by becoming something more was my favourite debut of the year. Warm and autumnal yet with a deep sorrow just beneath the surface, it’s a song I can never play just once.
Repulsive Woman – Rough Around The Edges
There’s something about the restraint in “Rough Around The Edges” that reveals so much, its sombre beauty so heavily bound up in what it holds back. Millie Lovelock’s solo project came of age in spellbinding fashion this year, and this song about the masks we wear and what they reveal was the most breathtaking moment of all.
Shana Cleveland – Night Of The Worm Moon
It’s the space in “Night Of The Worm Moon” which is its most powerful instrument. There’s so much going on here, but on close examination it seems to dissolve into the ether, leaving little more than a simple circular riff, that growling double bass, Cleveland’s matter of fact vocal and a tale worthy of MR James at his most brutal. Hauntingly, terrifyingly brilliant.
Hannah Cohen – Holding On
Hannah Cohen’s unlikely mix of folk and R&B created a beguiling summer sound that was easy to get lost in this year. “Holding On” was the most beautiful pop moment on her Welcome Home LP, with Cohen allowing herself to fall in love for real on record, exposing all her romantic dreams and fears over the gentle waves of blissed out exotica.
Big Thief – UFOF
A mysterious, winding folk song, the odd twists and turns of the verse resolve into a chorus so pretty that it could almost be pop music, if the whole thing didn’t sound so completely out of step with everything else going on. Adrienne Lenker’s voice sounds more withdrawn and intense than ever, and the result is a stunningly memorable single that I still can’t shake all these months later.
Guided By Voices – Angelic Weirdness
Guided By Voices seemed not just unstoppable this year, but positively rampant. Warp and Woof, the second of their three (!) 2019 LPs, was another scattershot mix of heavy riffing and odd, mercurial asides that seemed to float in from other records entirely and leave just as fast. “Angelic Weirdness” was one of the many high points, its uncanny, almost symphonic sound hanging around just long enough to thrill and unsettle in equal measure.
Jeffrey Lewis and The Voltage – LPs
Jeffrey Lewis announced his return this year with a touching tribute to “the disease” of record collecting, which makes a lot of typically on-point references for fellow sufferers like myself. The Voltage provide more than enough cheap organ rush to counter Lewis’s frenetic strum and the result is one of his finest songs, something that turns the joy of discovery and the pain of the price gougers into a feel-good anthem, with plenty of sparkling wit too.
Jeanines – You Were Mine
Barely scraping over 1 minute 30, not a moment is wasted on one of the best songs from Jeanines excellent debut LP. The bittersweet chord progressions and bouncing jangle underpin a tale of romantic hope tainted with regret, a feeling of trying to capture something that could get away in an instant. Alicia’s everywoman voices sounds captivating, heartbreaking and entirely, desperately in earnest on this absolute gem of a song.
Rosie Tucker – Lauren
“Lauren” was 2019’s great tribute to the power of friendship: simple, touching guitar pop, propelled by charm, wit and a killer chorus. A song that never seems to lose its impact, the sheer spirit of goodwill caught up in these grooves could soundtrack a million reluctant goodbyes and even more tearful reunions. “Quiet kinds of people do the most important shouting” sings Tucker, and it was her sweet but fierce holler that made the case for that this year
Mattiel – Keep The Change
An ode to throwing caution aside and taking the consequences, “Keep The Change”s glorious abandon plays out through every second of the song; the nursery rhyme glockenspiel; the relentless two-four beat; the joyous handclaps; and, most of all, Mattiel’s powerful yell cutting through everything. If there was a sound of the summer in 2019, this was it.
Lana Del Rey – Love Song
Lana’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” LP was a remarkable achievement and “Love Song” is, for me, the pinnacle. Consisting of not much more than a simple piano, some subtle synths and a gorgeous, dancing melody, the sheer intensity of emotion in the chorus makes me well up every time, despite all those melodramatic Lana touches that still half make me question whether it’s all a big put on. Eight years on from “Video Games”, she seems to have come something approaching full circle here; she’s older now though, maybe slightly less broken and, just possibly, a little happier.
Comet Gain – Bad Night At The Mustache
Fittingly enough as I’m writing this bit, I’m also grimly waiting to see if the Tories are going to be returned for a fourth successive term. Comet Gain’s autopsy of the austerity era is brutal and haunting, though not without hope. And in its remembrance of “a tower block full of screaming ghosts”, the furious recitation of a decades worth of savage villains and their dull-witted accomplices, and the general slow burning, rain-flecked fury that runs throughout the song, it reminds me why Comet Gain are such a wonderful band and why some things are worth fighting for.
The Leaf Library – Bright Seas
‘Bright Seas’ is a beautifully melodic highpoint on The Leaf Library’s “The World Is A Bell” album, a moment of easy bliss amongst the more involved experiments and drones. Full of fresh faced, bustling rhythms and bittersweet strings, it is ostensibly an ode to the ocean and its inhabitants, but the lyrics also play with something else, resignation to a lifetime of being thrown around on the tall black tidal waves of fate. “Bright Seas” proved that The Leaf Library could make simple pop music as affecting and memorable as anybody when they wanted to.
Vanishing Twin – Magician’s Success
The Broadcast/Stereolab sound has become a commonplace refuge to add some depth to unimaginative indie acts in recent years, but Vanishing Twin are one of the few bands to take it somewhere new. “Magician’s Success” hangs on the kind of woozy strings that the ‘Lab made their own round about the time of “Cybele’s Reverie”, but they turn it into an anthem of warm summer bliss that can still spread happiness around on a cold winter’s day.
Hand Habits – Can’t Calm Down
It’s taken me until just recently to see the merits of Hand Habits’ softer, more conciliatory second album, but the greatness of “Can’t Calm Down” struck me straight away when it was released back in February. The moody verse finds Meg sounding nervous and scared, but the tension magically resolves in a moment as the chorus washes over the listener with warm waves of love.
Billie Eilish – Xanny
Warm, woozy and strange as its tranquilized subjects, Eilish’s rejection of party culture expresses an almost god like detachment, as she responds to her fucked up peers with an aloof, dismissive wave of the hand. The effect is a kind of queazy lullaby, with Eilish as queen of all she surveys, watching everyone disintegrate around her as she plans a better life for herself. Given how things have ended up, it’s fair to say she made the right choice.
Muna – Number One Fan
Like most Muna songs,“Number One Fan” translates painful emotions into thrilling pop music, with the lyrics contrasting the importance of self belief with the doubts and depression that make it hard to sustain. Naturally, it’s a complete banger, full of slick moves and strong 80s energy, with the staccato bassline and throbbing synth riff burning their way into the brains of impressionable listeners everywhere
Patience – No Roses
Roxanne Clifford”s synth pop project is a world away from Veronica Falls, but “No Roses” is as gorgeous a song as she’s ever written. Bouncing analogue synths and swirling patterns of melody form its basis, but it’s Clifford’s wry, slightly detached but always engaged presence on vocals that makes “No Roses” in particular, and Patience in general, so irresistible.
Jane Weaver – Slow Motion (Loops Variation)
Jane Weaver’s transition to spacey electronica over her last two records has come with a certain detachment at times, but like much of her best material, “Slow Motion” has a squishy emotional core. A song that functions as a reminder that the world doesn’t have to be a bad place, its power flows from its unlikely optimism, but also the contrast between the vulnerability of Weaver’s vocal, the melancholy edge of its synthetic sweep and the irresistible drive of the machines.
Ex-Vöid – Only One
Formed from the ashes of Joanna Gruesome last year, Ex-Vöid’s second single is even better than their debut. “Only One” manages to build on their illustrious past, taking JG’s infectious jangle and infusing it with enough elements of AOR and Big Star that it sounds like it ought to be coming out of an AM radio speaker sometime in the mid-seventies. With more hooks than a cloakroom, “Only One’ made a last gasp dash for single of the year.
Jay Som – Superbike
Melina Duterte’s vocal seemed wispier than ever and twice as memorable, on a track pitched somewhere between Cocteau Twins and the kind of lush indie AOR that’s she’s made her own in recent times. With her sweet, yearning voice and the glorious, stuttering shimmer of the riff, “Superbike” felt like a step up in a game that started four years ago in her bedroom and has deservedly taken her to the edge of stardom.
So that’s all for now, I’ll do some albums soon enough as well. All there is left to say now, on the verge of a period of grim semi-dictatorship for the UK, is that in music, there was at least one thing to be thankful for this year, and that I hope that somebody finds something in this list that affects them in the way these songs have impacted me.