The best songs of 2019 … that you didn't hear

Kalie Shorr – F U Forever

Maine native, Nashville transplant Kalie Shorr has, as they say, bars. F U Forever is an immaculate character assassination that exposes an ex’s weak tricks and reveals him for the grasping bully he really is – one who lays his hands on her while their friends are over for dinner, gaslights her into thinking she’s a hysteric and makes her pay for everything then buys her “a random ring” with his tax return. “Now I’m wearing that stupid ring on my pretty little middle finger,” Shorr sings in the triumphant chorus, “so I can say F U forever!” It’s twangy and tart, with a classic Taylor Swift-style bridge, all helpless momentum until Shorr freezes on a perfect punchline: “I’m just a mirror reflecting,” she realises, “and you’re just an asshole projecting.” LS

William Tyler – Alpine Star

The self-described “rural new age” instrumentals of William Tyler might be the best music you didn’t hear in 2019, but could equally be the best music you didn’t hear in any year of the last half-century too. Tyler is a graduate of the “New Weird America’” scene of the 00s, and the Nashville guitarist’s hypnotic finger-pickings often feel unmoored from time and space altogether, evoking a dreamy, half-remembered vision of the deep south. For his latest Goes West, he’s added a bit of California sun to the mix too, resulting the most absorbing – and strangely tuneful – album of his career. Its highlight is the opener, a shimmering, ever-so-slightly proggy piece of chamber folk that gets more mesmerising as it goes. It seems to convey so much, without a single word being said. GM

Lou Roy – Bite

I stumbled into a small watering hole in Downtown LA a few months ago to see a singer-songwriter who previously spent the past five years recording under the name Huxlee, and has undergone a complete reinvention ahead of the release of a debut EP under the new guise of Lou Roy. The moment she began performing I felt that instant reassurance that comes with knowing that all it takes is walking into the wrong bar at the right time to be hit by a hopeful magic. Lou Roy’s voice has the elder sophistication of a legacy recording artist but in the track Bite her intentions have a most modern of truth-speaking. Bite is the lead single from a pensive three-track EP (Your Friend) about trying so hard to be so good to the ones we love, and how sometimes that involves literally biting down on our own instinctive impulses. It’s remarkable. EB

Tanya Tucker – The House That Built Me

Sure, Tanya Tucker has gotten lots of attention for the title track of her stunningly raw comeback album, While I’m Livin,’ including three Grammy nominations. But the peak song on the singer’s first album in over a decade hasn’t gotten anywhere near the exposure it deserves. Tucker’s recording of The House That Built Me, wipes the floor with the far better-known version of the song by Miranda Lambert, a No 1 country hit nearly a decade ago. In Lambert’s case, it was the song, not the singer, that clicked. Lambert was half Tucker’s age when she recorded House, too shy of experience to make a lyric about the search for lost youth stick. By contrast, Tucker brought every one of her 60 years to bear in her version, using her time-scarred voice and slyly wizened persona to create a performance that will bring you to tears. JF

2099 by Charli XCX & Troye Sivan

2099 is a delightfully weird track. On the surface, this collaboration with Troye Sivan features nonsensical, distorted lyrics about zooming on a jet ski and heavy on the cankerous noises. It’s not an easy, immediately accessible listen. And that’s exactly what makes it a great pop track. In 2019, pop played it safe. The charts were dominated by songs that delivered great Instagram captions (“I just took a DNA test …”) and achieved virality (the domination of Old Town Road on TikTok in tandem with its record-breaking stay at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100). 2099 is a song that explicitly rides against these waves. The track strives to point pop in a new direction, an expansion of the clunky, futuristic “PC music” Charli first experimented with on her critically praised 2017 mixtape, Pop 2. Charli slyly addresses the fact that, despite making some of the most interesting, daring pop of recent years, she has yet to achieve mainstream success or award recognition. “She might pop but it’s whatever, she might sell but what she’s selling?” Charli sings, deftly throwing shade. AW

Hurtling – Memory Cassette

Clocking in at less than 750 YouTube views and just over 2,000 plays on Spotify, this indie-rock gem has been totally overlooked, and undeservedly so. Hurtling are a London-based trio fronted by My Bloody Valentine touring member Jen Macro – you might have assumed that she would have been left completely deaf by the experience, or at least given to playing waves of crushing noise. But while there’s a satisfying distortion on her guitar, it’s like something sent forward in time from the tougher end of the Britpop scene: a melodic, swaggering track anchored by bassist Simon Kobayashi’s sneered backing vocals in the chorus. It’s plainly produced and all the better for it, making them sound like the kind of band you go to see in a pub just because your mate knows the drummer and you feel duty bound to support, but who you end up whooping in delight to as the gig goes on. BBT

Cleo Sol – One

While much of the doom-laden music from 2019 has shared a cold, brutalist texture, from Idles to Slowthai, Cleo Sol’s magnificent One is trail through a verdant jungle of pessimism. Rotary Connection and Marvin Gaye are touchstones in this psychedelic soul track, abundant with cosmic dramatism and hypnotic percussion. Sol possesses the sort of commanding vocals that make you want to chuck away all of your worldly possessions, join a cult and possibly take up reiki. Its somewhat on the nose references to consuming “fake food”, watching too much TV and “forests dying” are offset by the song’s heavenly backing vocals, which, at their most climactic moment, sound distorted by sheer volume. And if you like this, Sol also turns her hand to scratchy, ESG-inspired funk with group SAULT – Let Me Go being another standout tune of 2019). HG

Sean C Johnson – New Day (Otis Parham)

There’s a stinging sadness behind a deceptively sprightly beat from soul singer Sean C Johnson in this criminally underappreciated track released near the end of this year’s Black History Month. It’s a tribute to his great-uncle Otis Parham who was lynched by a group of white men at the age of 16 and with convincing force, Johnson makes a depressing link between the America of 1934 and 2019. There’s mournful anger but also hope as he insists that a better world is around the corner. There’s been a steady, necessary rise in songs addressing the ongoing crisis of racially motivated killings in the US but this is one of the most impactful examples, as moving as it is melodic. BL

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