Aren’t end-of-the-year lists silly? Who are we to say that Joe Gorgeous’ “Wet Cement” was a better track than, say, “Little Sea” by Bosque Brown? As critics, we try to use these clickbait pieces to honor those whose work we admire, not snub worthy candidates. It never works out that way, though, and we invariably leave off a tune or three that obviously should have been included or put at the bottom a song that probably deserved to be higher. For that, we’re sorry –– sort of.
Walking into this task, we know from the onset that the list will be inadequate, but we’re also confident that we’ve compiled a kick-ass collection of tunes that will no doubt introduce and/or remind local music fans of some of this city’s best tuneage. And no one on the planet is more qualified for that task than we are. Enjoy. –– Eric Griffey
1. “It’s Devi, Bitch,” Devi
Devi’s debut single uses the sensuous pulse of a trip-hop-copping groove to muse over the conflict between losing her head and catching her breath, and “It’s Devi, Bitch” is an addictive introduction to this up-and-coming electro-pop chanteuse’s sultry new sound.
2. “Rise,” Gollay
With its twinkling, swirling synthesizers and the determined throb of its drums, “Rise” combines urgent, anthemic forward motion with a dark, opulent pop sensibility, like if you could somehow turn a Cure song into sapphires or vice–versa. The longing in Rachel Gollay’s voice has never sounded more sumptuous.
3. “November,” The Cush
“November” slows the veteran psyche-rock outfit’s ebullient Brit-pop influences into dreamy, down-tempo melancholia that evinces a sense of longing, regret, and nostalgia while paradoxically giving you the warm fuzzies. It’s brief, sad, and beautiful, like watching leaves caught in the eddy of autumn wind.
4. “See What I’ve Done,” All Clean
A shrill and panicked guitar line undulates and bends as a backdrop to a thumping 808 kick, thunderous bass rumbles, and saw-wave synths buzzing and stabbing, creating a nightmarish durge as All Clean’s mad scientist Zachary Edwards delivers a cryptic and particularly unsettling bragging montage.
5. “L.I.F.E.,” Juma Spears
The pleasantly arpeggiated keyboard melody and the round, subtly persistent bass thud-thudding beneath Juma Spears’ “L.I.F.E” give the track a contemplative, stargazing vibe, while his verses speak of dreams of peace and appreciation for the present. Taken with the hook –– “L is for the love of our people / I is for identity, your own separate entity / F is for forever, take it however / E is for exalt” –– this single is a stellar song for living in the moment.
6. “New Age,” Cut Throat Finches
In this era of divisive invective and the us-and-them enmity between America’s political and cultural tribes, Cut Throat Finches’ “New Age” wants you to know that you’re missing out on a lot of good times being mad about all that shit.
7. “Orion’s Shoulder,” Mountain of Smoke
Mountain of Smoke’s second album, Gods of Biomechanics, is Bladerunner fan-fiction written as operatic sludge metal. “Orion’s Shoulder” sets that genre’s characteristically plodding tempos ablaze and plummeting to Earth like an asteroid, as its android rebellion rallying cry of “kill your gods!” slices through the distorted murk like the c-beams memorialized in the Roy Batty soliloquy that plays at the end of the song.
8. “I’m Sorry,” Grace Kali
The peaceful, sun-soaked California vibe that permeates this track soothes some of the pain that vocalist Christian Williams is trying to exorcise. This personal song about growth and self-forgiveness will have you feeling a tug at the heartstrings even as you bob your head along to the glacial-slick production.
9. “Pure Destroyer,” War Party
Opening War Party’s latest album with its electronic drums and New Wave keyboard nod, the record’s title track ponders creation’s antecedent void and its unknowable after but ultimately posits that it’s probably more important to laugh in the now than worry about what lies ahead.
10. “Run it Back,” Lou CharLe$
Your head nod will be locked like a perpetual motion machine as the throbbing sub-bass over the insect click-trap beat will get you vibin’. CharLe$’ verses flow like rain down a window –– subtle but steady, hubristic yet hypnotic.
11. “Wet Cement,” Joe Gorgeous
Bratty, fuzzed-out, with a shout-along chorus, this slack-rock gem showcases singer Joey Gorman’s signature bumptious wit. But there’s deceptive depth behind the lackadaisical guess-this-is-what’s-going-to-happen reservation that lies on the surface: It’s Gorman shrugging off the silly immediacy of now.
12. “F Society,” Wrex (feat. Dru B. Shinin’ and YKK)
Never has such an anarchistic battle cry been delivered in such a chilled–out way. Joined by iconic Fort Worth rapper Dru B. Shinin’, hip-hop hippie Wrex offers one of his characteristic indica-mellow lyrical downloads with his take on living his best life.
13. “Let it Burn,” Royal Sons
“Let it Burn” works as an outline of sorts for what thick-riffed blues-rockers Royal Sons want to achieve with their music. Slinky, psychedelic, and explosive, the track builds from warbly, dream-like verses to a powerful fist-pumping chorus as the lyrics simply call for razing it all to the ground.
14. “For What,” Washed Up Rookie
“For What” is a textbook example of the vibe evoked by dirty blues duo Washed Up Rookie. Imagine if a Kerouac novel came to life and grabbed a guitar; the sound of a brick basement speakeasy heavy with smoke; and the sting of absinthe. Colton Cogdill’s strained vocals and schizophrenic guitar build a tension that rides the edge but never releases.
15. “Babble On,” Clay Perry
Clay Perry’s vibey flow and spartan production mirror the sentiment of this song –– that the distress and distraction of life on Earth is just noise.
16. “Teeth,” Summerjob
Over a simple electric piano, former Movie the Band co-frontman Mac Probst, now known as Summerjob, narrates a gruesome interrogation in first-person before a jaunty guitar line and a heroic string section add to the almost comical musical contradiction, creating the happiest and most hopeful-sounding song in the world about being brutally beaten to death.
17. “Little Sea,” Bosque Brown
This May, the venerated singer-songwriter returned from a three-year absence with a five-song EP of delicately articulated folk that puts her gorgeous voice at its fore. Its title track expresses the hopes and love of motherhood over a beautifully spare arrangement of finger-picked guitar chords, the pleasant hiss of tape, and synthesizer pads that sigh and whisper like a baby’s breath.
18. “I’ll Go,” Cody Lynn Boyd
With all the intimate vulnerability of Conor Oberst (sans his disquieting verklempt vocal affectation), Cody Lynn Boyd’s third single of the year is his most refined and developed offering to date. Tender and controlled, sprinkled with Boyd’s mystical occultish aesthetic, it shows a budding songwriter who’s rapidly maturing.
19. “Merely,” Ansley
The plaintive piano in the verses of the opening track of Ansley’s solo debut gives way to the lush arrangement of her choruses like waves crashing and ebbing over glass polished into precious stones by the tide while showcasing her ear for dynamic melody.
20. “Stella,” The Fibs
This uncharacteristic piano ditty by darkwave psych-purveyors The Fibs can surely trace its sonic genealogy directly back to Andy Warhol’s patronage of the Velvet Underground. It’s easy to imagine Preston Newberry’s vampiric vocals echoing off the walls of a bygone ’60s Factory-style New York City loft.