Did you ever imagine you would finally be here at the final day of 2019? And yet, here we are: well enough, at the very least, to be reading this.
For our inaugural end-of-year lists, we shook down all of our resources to find the best music the city had to offer. We collected names, Spotify playlists, suggestions from our favorite local musicians, Soundcloud links, and made multiple spreadsheets to keep it all straight.
There were some key questions asked of each track and album to see if it belonged amongst the best of 2019: What was the scope of its popularity and success? Was it innovative and pushed boundaries? Was it good quality and well made? Did it have cultural impact in and/or outside the city? Did it have heart and passion?
We also wanted to ensure a wide array of acts were considered. Whether they were musicians from here who have moved away from Atlanta that we still hold dear, people with laptops who made music alone in Atlanta bedrooms, or bands who have been mainstays of the local scene for years. We wanted to welcome all kinds on our list.
What we found was that in 2019, the music that hit hardest wasn’t showy, preachy, or superficial. Instead, it was the most honest, fun, and joyful. Maybe a return to earnestness is our only choice in what is universally being called a pretty dismal year. But the music we loved most in 2019 was pure expression. And, lucky for us, most of it was catchy as hell.
So enjoy our top tracks of 2019. Stay safe.
— Autumn James, the Mainline
49. The Pleasure Point
“Big Shitty – Remix”
48. Curt Castle
46. Buckhead Shaman
“Art Museum Management”
45. Mirth of Moon
44. Fantasy Guys
43. Fun Isn’t Fair
42. Paradise Montage
38. Improvement Movement
“Strange Secrets Worth Knowing
“this body means nothing to me”
36. Rose Hotel
35. Faye Webster
33. Negashi Armada
“Dog on a Hill”
30. Dinner Time
29. Blonde Mom
28. Moon Diagrams
27. True Blossom
26. Warm Red
25. Grandma feat. Rico Nasty
“Stomp and Grind”
Glitzy and stylish, “Stomp and Grind” is a genre-bending track that is as funky and dance-y as it is sexy. However, the soft, groovy beginning of “Stomp and Grind” is halted within 30 seconds, in which the song completely transitions into punchy hip-hop for Rico Nasty’s jarringly raw verse. A head-turning choice, for sure.
Most impressively, we get to hear Grandma’s vocal prowess on “Stomp and Grind.” He’s a master at soft R&B vocals, has an effortless falsetto, and also employs an almost gravelly hip-hop flow. “Stomp and Grind” embodies a so many different moods, but retains its stability, and secures Grandma’s status as an immensely talented songwriter to watch out for. — Autumn James
In a little flurry of hi-hats and ride cymbals, Peeko’s “Fish Fry” instantly relays the feeling of a tiny, youthful memory. It’s a nostalgia-filled romp that feels like drinking straight from the water hose. Peeko leaves no stone left unturned in its description of sweet, clumsy summer fun: losing teeth, scraping knees, and falling out of trees. However, this moment in time isn’t all playfulness; it comes with the growing pains of fresh experiences with love. The lyric “Innocence is ignorance” ushers in a newfound perspective that breaks the bright purity of “Fish Fry.” There is a climactic relishing in this new exploration: “You were mine/ You were mine/ You were mine/When I cut off all the lights.” A final repetition of the first verse reminds us that these awkward new experiences can still be met with youthful fearlessness, but maybe minus the naivety. — Autumn James
“Here Leaves Today”
Pinkest’s “Here Leaves Today” is a time-bending journey. Our first stop is a time machine ride to the late 70s/early 80s, with the staccato intro evocative of London Calling. Next, we go to the theatre with vocals reminiscent of the glam rock of Sparks. Then, we are transported into the raw punk of early Television or Buzzcocks. Halfway through the tour, “Here Leaves Today” builds into raucousness, devolves into a jazzy interlude, and escalates back into its main groove. In the final act, we descend into madness: “Soon they realize/They’re all friends of mine/With all the cracks in their heads/They must be all dead/Coming out of their heads/They’re finally out of their heads/I can’t get out of my bed/And I’m in flames.” Thanks for the ride, Pinkest. — Autumn James
22. Kibi James
“Hi, How Are You?”
Kibi James uses cuteness and inquisitiveness to their advantage with “Hi, How Are You?”, a track that meanders in listlessness, only to perk its little ears at what piques its interest. An ongoing thoughtful and introspective inner monologue, the song bounces back into reality to have a conversational interaction: “Hi, how are you?/How do you do/I’m fine/Thank you.” Then, “Hi, How Are You?” strolls away from the conversation, unaffected. It finally gives into the daydream by the time the bridge comes around. The bass line mimics a lollygagging pace while the guitar bends like it’s scoring the curious cocking of a head. “Hi, How Are You?” finally fades out in phaser-y laziness, as if it was never there at all. — Autumn James
21. Red Sea
“Love Is Blind”
A haiku for the “Love is Blind” official music video that actually came out in 2018:
Who stole your magic
Matrix contacts from “Daddy?”
Was it Blonde Mom? Dance.
— Autumn James
20. Nadia Marie
Commencing with the feeling of suddenly falling into the sparkly, gossamer sweetness of enamorment, “Yes / No” turns tense quickly. Nadia Marie’s affection is met with the crushing response of “no, never.” The track ebbs and flows with the vacillation of an indecisive love.
“Yes / No” is emotionally intense, whether it is with the swelling triumph of finally winning the love you always wanted, or the unmistakable heartbreak of rejection. However, there is a distinct anger and darkness to “Yes / No.” I expect this comes from grappling with accepting the love of someone who has wavered on their love for you. “Yes / No” has the resentment of someone who has waited too long for an answer, but Nadia Marie is certainly the one who is “laughing now.” — Autumn James
19. Father feat. Zack Fox
“Family Function” is the perfect marriage of Awful Records monarch Father and comedian-rapper Zack Fox’s styles. It’s stupid, and they love it. Father (being a dad and all) wants to present his family as honestly as he can. They’re an absolute mess, drinking Hennessy with Patrón and losing their pistols during family dinner. You can hear Father giggling throughout the whole track, and truthfully, it’s pretty wholesome. I’d pay to hear what these two talked about between cuts. Fox provides a quippy, Rico Nasty-infused feature (mostly aimed at himself) and doesn’t overstay his welcome. He comes across as a dorky, successful cousin, packing up his shit and getting out after he’s made his appearance. Hearing Father and Fox on a track together just feels correct: they match each other’s energies in the middle, allowing Father to be a bit more extroverted, a little more approachable. Maybe he’ll get everyone Christmas presents next year. Or maybe that’s asking for too much. — Austin Jones
18. Sweet William
“Freely Take Freely Give”
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Will Lackey, aka Sweet William, virtuosic. He is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist with a background in percussion, piano, and marimba, to name a few. Over the course of six minutes, Sweet William constructs a complicated and diverse soundscape in “Freely Take Freely Give.” Once the vibe of this track in formulated, the rug is gracefully pulled out from under the listener. A long, pulsating synth intro gives way to a harsh, shredding violin before fading into a relaxing, resonant marimba. It is not until the midway point that “Freely Take Freely Give” opens up into a sensual dance track complete with heavy breathing. We finally get our first clear vocal line in the home stretch, and it is an invitation: “Come and free me.” — Autumn James
“Savor Your Sons”
If an album is a tasting menu, then the first plate should serve to whet the appetite. While the lyrics to “Savor Your Sons” leave a lot to the imagination, the delivery of each crooned harmony simply oozes charisma that can’t help but be consumed. The dual vocalist combination of Johnathan Merenivitch and Adrian Switon compliment each other like Michael Stipe and Peter Buck (or maybe chocolate and peanut butter to keep this food theme going). The drums pummel you when they need to, but only when perfectly necessary, and the guitars slice with the precision and force of a butcher (who may be wearing a Joy Division t-shirt). Setting the stage for the rest of the meal that is as varied and inventive as Shepherds’ sophomore album Insignificant Whip with such calculation necessitates no such insignificance. It makes your mouth water for more, leaving you both shaken and stirred. — Sebastian Marquez
16. Mayer & Mayer
Sharing meals with a romantic interest is customary. Dining at a restaurant as a first date is standard, but cooking with someone is intimate. It connotes a love that is not about instant gratification. It’s about sharing the time, the process, the mess, and the creation together; hopefully ending in sweet results.
Mayer & Mayer, comprised of brother and sister duo Mick Mayer (Red Sea) and Elle Mayer, weave a cozy blanket of a song with “Golden Brown.” Every instrument tonally mirrors the tenderness of the lyrical content, particularly Elle’s velvety-soft cello. Tiny sonic details build the track’s warm world: the ring of the doorbell, the pouring of milk, the cracking of eggs, the chime of the oven timer. “Golden Brown” incites the domesticity of comfy, home-y love toasted to perfection. — Autumn James
15. Faye Webster
“Right Side of My Neck”
Among Awful Records’ cast of Atlanta oddballs, Faye Webster was always the weird one. How ironic, given the serenity and ease that binds her folk/R&B fusion. What makes Webster a cut above the rest, though, is her honesty. In a press release with the Bloomington-based indie label Secretly Canadian to which she is currently signed, Webster stated she “didn’t think about writing [‘Right Side Of My Neck’],” and it shows. The track’s jaunty, mellow piano and pedal steel dance right into a family living room as Webster croons about new love. Lyrics like “The right side of my neck still smells like you” show she isn’t shy about her pining, either. She lingers, lovelorn, reaching for a lover’s touch, and her feelings seem to blossom and are heralded by soaring brass. It’s effortless and real—a song made for kicking off your shoes and throwing yourself headlong at the world. “Right Side Of My Neck” values the sensory, the lingering scent of loved ones, the little details we notice changing in one another. Clearly, as Webster demonstrates, it’s those moments of clarity that make life worth writing music about. — Austin Jones
14. Jay Americana
Flex (n.) /fleks/
To show off, to gloat, or to boast in an unabashed way
An arrogant power move
— Autumn James
Medea, Medb, Magdalene—she invokes these killer queens. “Let them eat cake,” she says. The guitar twitches, Medusa pulls her hair back into a knot; slaughter is hard work. She’s got you, but she likes to toy with her food. A lip of fire crosses the ocean. Her cult cheers and claps while the fuzz of strings intoxicates penitent onlookers. “Come on, you sailors, to die in my arms,” Circe mouths while stoking a flame, burning the bridge between love and murderous intent. It topples like a wicker man, and at its base, there she is: Norma Bates, mother of Grendel, slayer of kingdoms. I know what you’re thinking: “Your viscera looks exquisite rotting on the shore.” And to the survivors: “If you dare/Come deeper into the lair.” — Austin Jones
12. Solar Flower
What if Lungfish did a lot more hallucinogens? I think by asking this question, we’ve already answered it too, as “Forms” gives us a glimpse into that reality. These righteous tones feel chosen like a painter chooses his pigments. Unlike a musty studio, I think Solar Flower would much prefer their practice space, though. You think they’d be into chilling and listening to Electric Wizard? That fuzz bass says either that or Thee Oh Sees. It feels like a psych-rock buffet in here. There’s the chants! The riffs! The repetitions! The implied spirituality! The abstractions!
Or maybe I’m just reading into this too much. You know when loud guitars just feel right? This is what that’s like. Then when the whole track breaks down and becomes more amorphous, the band’s zen energy (zenergy?) really crystallizes before the listener. Like a sculpture made of melted Black Sabbath albums then set on fire again, “Forms” feels like a monument; it’s akin to a religious experience. It seems like in this religion, though, the angels hold flaming amplifiers and the messiah comes down on a pillowy chariot of feedback. — SM
11. Arbor Labor Union
Arbor Labor Union has been refining its genre-bending sound for years. Post-punk song structures are given fresh life through a more southern, Americana tonality. In the band’s newest single, “Flowerhead,” they find themselves adeptly playing in the space they’ve previously forged. Raucous, layered guitar riffs effortlessly build over a rhythm section that slyly subverts kinetic expectations. Lyrics also continue to inform their peace-loving, political perspective, while peppering in imagery of a flowery folk art fantasy land. The moment of “Flowerhead” that feels most indicative of ALU’s ethos appropriately contains the title of its upcoming album, New Petal Instants. As the bombastic jubilation subsides for a quiet moment of reflection, the line “Every new petal instant becomes a cosmos” is offered. Not to dwell on the spiritual posturing too long, singer Bo Orr quickly dives into “pick a boogie” and the band jumps back in without losing any momentum. Besides, what good is cosmic meditation if you can’t let out a little “yeehaw” every now and then? That balance of provocation and levity continues to inform the flowery magic of Arbor Labor Union. — Lawson Chambers
10. Coco & Clair Clair
Coco & Clair Clair often refract categorization. They tap into a certain scrambled, Bratz doll mood, much like they’re soundtracking a chaotic mall in a digital dollhouse. That isn’t to say the music isn’t mature; in fact, Coco & Clair Clair consistently put out some of the cleverest pop music in the Atlanta scene. Distinctly feminine and playful, “Bugs” evokes the sort of inside joke anyone would want to be in on. It’s spangly and free, and music only best friends could compose together. It’s enough to make you wish you were their third member. The often enigmatic duo waffles on how much of their world they want to let us in on. Their eccentricities shine with deep-cut vine references and a mystic interpolation of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” that’s whip smart and crackling with staticky wit. In a year marked by unexpected pop rap viral hits, it’s only a matter of time before Coco & Clair Clair have their national moment. It’s sure to be a party. — Austin Jones
9. Hanzo feat. 6 Dogs
Are you the star of the show? Hanzo certainly makes me want to feel like that. 6 Dogs, the moon to Hanzo’s sun, revolves around the listener, and bathes you in vibes so thicc you can cut it with a butter knife… then maybe put into a grinder and smoke it. At least these dudes are cool enough to keep it mellow for the duration of the high. The skittering hi-hats never feel too intrusive, and the keyboards floating underneath everything add a welcomed, pillowy affectation the the whole thing. Hanzo is even considerate enough to add in a well-placed Frank Ocean reference to keep us grounded in reality. (Not that our reality is better, by any stretch of the imagination.) It makes sense Awful Records has been getting involved with Hanzo, too. They can smell star power like a truffle in the woods, and Hanzo is prime for picking. — SM
8. Blonde Mom
“Here and Gone”
An exercise in the art of letting go, “Here and Gone” tells us that our feelings are impermanent and so are we. But if you’re looking for nihilism, it won’t be found here. The lyrics of “Here and Gone” instead read like a psalm: “Sympathize with yourself/Nobody can be your friend as well as you/Sailing away from our worries/What an amazing thought to be/Here and gone.”
The song is exuberant in its liberation, and the final 30 seconds of “Here and Gone” are mostly joyful noises in the name of freedom. So, wake up early and well-rested. Do some stretches. Put on a face mask. Dance to “Here and Gone” by Blonde Mom. Call it self-care. — Autumn James
“Misuse” begins much like any EBM song worth a listen might: with an unrelenting, pulsating industrial drum machine. This pulsation serves as the lifeblood of the track, a hot knife cutting at the hoarfrost the synths seem to cast down. “Misuse” feels like a battle to stay warm, and producer/songwriter Matt Weiner clearly finds his strength in warmth. The power to melt is decisive and swift, like a quickdraw from a cowboy’s pistol. On the other hand, the glacial synths feels like a siren’s call. Maybe, in our increasingly desensitized and digitized world, the comfort of stagnation and death would be preferable. “Misuse” feels bodily and danceable as it contends with polar, divisive paradigms, both ever-present and in constant fluctuation. How scary it must be to find humanity where the two meet. — Austin Jones
6. Warm Red
“Big Tiger” starts with a fake out: a false beginning that prepares the listener for the attack of the song, but jars an adjustment of perception.
A pile-driver of a song that reflects a carnivorous predator, “Big Tiger” quickly lets us know the narrator is no longer prey. Then pitying their assailant, it crescendos: “I find it hard to believe/That animals could be so trusting/Trusting/Trusting/That’s so fucking disgusting.”
Perhaps it is our ability to discern what is and is not worth trusting that distinguishes us from animals, defines our humanity, and positions Warm Red at the top of the food chain. — Autumn James
5. Sequoyah Murray
Proof of banger status, presented in full, is what we get on “Sublime.” Completely opposite to a document coldly handed to a bureaucrat, the infectious grooves presented to the listener for consideration lend a beating warmth with every croon and effortlessly danceable groove. In this dance floor nation of the mind, there aren’t any borders; Sequoyah broke them down as soon as the beat came in. In all its booty-commandeering majesty, “Sublime” draws likely comparison to Arthur Russell, specifically reminiscent of gentle grooves in the classic “That’s Us/Wild Combination.” Perhaps the closest comparison is in their voices: both breath-y and recorded closely, but still just a bit distant in their intonation. However, unlike “Wild Combination,” “Sublime” feels downright kinetic in its delivery, with the four-on-the-floor bass drums in combination with the synth bass feeling much clubbier. The only documentation required in the “Sublime” nation is a guarantee to lose yourself in the waves of groove. — SM
We know them, we love them, and by gosh, it seems Omni is here to say. The EAV heroes turned Sub Pop signees are back at it again with their cheekily titled Networker and one of the highlights, “Skeleton Key,” is a showcase in what exactly got Omni so damn famous in the first place. The band’s mastery of rhythm is on full display from the first second of the record. With a riff that begins with unison notes from all members, “Skeleton Key” ties itself into wonderful knots of rhythm with everyone navigating Frankie’s blazing (but always tasteful… maybe flambé?) melodic guitar riffs with the ease of post-punk ballerinas. Even the vaguely Tom-Petty-meets-Paul-McCartney vibe of the bridge and guitar solos at the end feels unmistakably Omni. When the song fades out, I keep wanting more. Thankfully, Omni continues deliver that wiry ear candy fix efficiently and effectively. Lovely networking, boys. — SM
3. Bradford Cox & Cate Le Bon
Sounding like an opening trapeze act, “Canto!” opens Atlanta favorite Bradford Cox and Welsh auteur Cate Le Bon’s Myths 004, a collaborative EP that’s part of a series recorded each year for the Marfa Myths festival in Texas. The track has a midcentury idiosyncrasy about it, gradually unfurling into a chiming, wind-up clock piano and pleading guitar strums. As the track lulls into a comfortable trance, it feels like Le Bon is looming like a ghost on Cox’s back. In its roughness, we see the truth of the duo’s collaborative effort—jammy, yet elegant and well-practiced. — Austin Jones
I spend a lot of time looking at my own hands, a habit which has an equal tendency to stem from either discomfort or fascination. They serve as the means by which I access pleasures, and my head is filled with ways to push them beyond their limits. The supple joys of palming a basketball or testing the limits of a balloon only serve to fill the hands completely, at once fulfilling them and making them useless, with a tinge of faintly priapic glee. Infants exhibit the desire to fit entire spheres in their mouths. Just as haplessly, my first impulse upon squeezing a handful of flesh is to bite into it.
Father’s “Handful” is at the very least a gleeful testimony of this obscure desire to touch the tumescent. The Awful Records figurehead is as eager as ever to show his familiarity with unshakeable hip-hop formulae (namely, blind opulence as evocative of neonatal arousal) and he executes it with his distinct brand of chauvinism and vague self-derision. The track’s timorous bass line and hi-hats waver steadily while Father relies on his infectious charisma to conduct in the foreground. We’re in his show—not the other way around—and disembodied ass cheeks and swollen, overripe fruit resemble one another in his (self-professed) demented reliquary. It would be useless to ask, “A handful of what?” Because then, you’d be missing the point. The only thing that matters is that, whatever it is, it’s just enough to hold onto. The dumb supra-sensory pleasure of “Handful” lies in Father’s ability to dip his jewel-laden fingers into our most subdued, and thus most hedonistic, impulses. What ensues is a Bacchic rite in which our bodies become inextricable through a tryst of pulsing, swelling, bouncing. — Cody Bishop
The night I set out to find the best music the city had to offer this year, I scoured Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, and Soundcloud, compiling names of anyone I’d missed over the course of 2019. Then, I started listening. I listened all night, pacing my living room, talking to myself, and taking notes. At around 2 a.m., I heard my first Hanzo song: “SuperBloodWolfMoon.”
I think I screamed upon first listen, half-elated to find a song so catchy and partly upset I’d never heard it before. Hanzo takes less than one second to prove the pop potency of the track; I was dancing in moments. I didn’t want the song to ever end. I listened to “SuperBloodWolfMoon” about a dozen times consecutively after that initial play-through. When I finally moved on to listening to other artists, I found myself returning to “SuperBloodWolfMoon” as a palette cleanser in between songs. I listened another two or three times, forcing myself to pull away from the song.
I have been on a lifelong quest to find a perfect pop song, and this feels like progress. There is not an exact formula as to why this track is so catchy and likable. I honestly don’t want to get into describing the sonic details of “SuperBloodWolfMoon.” It just hits in the right way; it is inexpressible. Like a cognitive reflex, I have no choice but to immediately love it: a true sign of perfect pop.
Is that how pop music works? Do you just know when it’s right? How does it infiltrate your brain, and make a home there? — Autumn James