From the Intercom: The 50 Best Songs of 2019
“A Paper Dream”
Japanese four-piece indie rock band DYGL (pronounced day-glo) is here to take us back to the glory days of garage rock. With a sound that started out strikingly similar to The Strokes (as presented on their debut EP Don’t know where it is), DYGL’s recent work has taken on a grungier, scrappier approach. Their 2019 full-length debut, Songs of Innocence and Experience, expanded upon these production changes–with a particular standout in “A Paper Dream.”
Harnessing the type of rowdy energy that could power a mosh-pit with ease, “A Paper Dream” reels you in with rapturous hooks and a reserved enthusiasm. Thanks to some tasteful handclaps and catchy guitar-work that would make anyone smile, this is a song that calls for some movement. But while DYGL, who has a very tightly wound stage presence, might not perform “A Paper Dream” with all of the fervor the song deserves, the true rock spirit comes from within. The only way one can truly appreciate DYGL’s rock-and-roll can only be through a late night at their concert: with you emerging from the show slightly wet from spilled beers, high off of frenzied energy with both ears ringing. This is the kind of song that will take you to that state of mind.
“Human Alchemy” plays out like a sort of grandiose statement that enchants wholeheartedly. On Toronto-based singer-songwriter Estyr’s melancholic debut single, love is a difficult subject to pin down. It’s one that breathes: coming together and falling apart, changing just as quickly as it comes. That’s just the nature of it.
As Estyr recounts a non-committal relationship, there’s a heavy gravity emanating from the things left unsaid. Self-reflective lyrics like, “You were the love I had then lost / Might’ve been better than to not” and “You can’t fall halfway / I’d rather be lonely than trying to stay” seem gracefully self-aware: acting as more of an affirmation than a scolding to a would-be partner. With or without you, life has to move on. Thanks to its honey-like pacing, echoing instrumentation, and Estyr’s beautifully crystalline vocals, “Human Alchemy” is the type of song that turns the messiest of breakups into an exercise in artful contemplation.
Just like she herself so carefully phrased: “It’s not you / It’s not me / It’s human alchemy.”
“Hope is a Bird”
Eunice Keitan has the kind of voice that seems to fit many, many genres due to its expansive range and saucy, expressive timbre. That much can be seen on last year’s Where the Road Begins EP, where Keitan tried her hand at Latin-tinged lounge songs–dipping into a genre that many contemporary artists find difficult to start off in. But this year, Keitan’s “Hope is a Bird” forgoes those stylings for a topic that she hopes to be less taboo amongst Asian communities: the topic of mental health.
Channeling the healing energy of a self-loving torch song, “Hope is a Bird” is itself the musical equivalent of chicken soup for the soul. Filled with Keitan’s own experiences and struggles with her own mental health, the song is soothing and comforting–openly inviting in love even when situations feel bleak. Keitan’s not afraid to talk about her own depressing feelings… why should you?
By showcasing Keitan’s warm, bright vocals that carry the flames of hope, “Hope is a Bird” is a song that could heal the world.
For Tracy Hyde
“Can Little Birds Remember?”
Japanese genre-morphing quintet For Tracy Hyde makes music that is sprawling and cinematic. Their excellent near hour-long third album, New Young City, plays out like a romantic, sweeping movie… complete with highs, lows, yearning sentiment and everything in-between. But if the experience of listening to New Young City is akin to watching a moving hour-long film, “Can Little Birds Remember?” is definitely the album’s climax: the apex emotional hurricane that ties it all together.
Despite being the band’s first and only English-language song, “Can Little Birds Remember?” lyrically hits harder than most of the songs that came out of the English-speaking world in 2019. No lyrics encapsulates the spirit of life more unapologetically than For Tracy Hyde’s brazen, goosebump-inducing chorus: “We are alive and beautiful / Harmonizing in the lull” and resonantly infinite lines like “I sometimes wished that the world would never change / But eternity is every moment, so I guess I’ll let it slide.” As lead singer Eureka and guitarist Azusa harmonize and trade verses with one another, there’s the feeling that everything will be alright–even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. Between the blazing shoegaze guitar chords, crashing drums, and a frenzied outro which takes the song to new heights, “Can Little Birds Remember?” is a swirling epic, wholly embracing the band’s youthful optimism in its purest form.
“Am I trying too hard / Or is it never good enough?” That’s the reflective question that The Fur.’s lead vocalist Savanna asks, almost rhetorically.
Sadness, glimmering synths, and The Fur. go hand in hand–take a listen to the Taiwanese indie pop band’s debut Town and you’ll hear what I mean. However, on the quartet-turned-trio’s massively scaled-down “Movie Star,” they’ve found a new musical direction that retains their usual melancholic tone while switching up… most everything else. By peeling back a layer of those blanketed synths that defined their previous work, Savanna’s voice shines through–revealing a more troubled, but reluctantly forward-thinking narrator on this guitar-driven track.
From the mid-song car sample to the looser, meandering synths, “Movie Star” is The Fur. at their most honest state–and they’re all the better for it.
It’s no secret that we’re fans of Ginger Root on this site–aggressive elevator soul and all of its connotations is a genre that is here to stay. When bandleader Cameron Lew and co. are rocking out on stage by bringing spunk, soul, and funk to the scene, there’s little you can do to stop yourself from dancing along. “Weather,” though, has to be one of the band’s more instantly catchy and audience-friendly hits. While the studio version of the song already captures the brimming energy of Lew and the crew, the live version is not to be missed (If you ever see them live, you’ll know what I mean).
Cheerful and jaunty, “Weather” is a song filled with jumping synths and glistening piano chords guaranteed to brighten up any grey feelings. Showy piano flourishes accent the piece, while Lew’s energetic vocals further punctuate the already confident song, making it impossible to stand still once the song gets into the groove. I (I!) for one, am hooked.
Gym and Swim
“Don’t Leave Me Behind” (ft. Sunset Rollercoaster)
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When Thai supergroup Gym and Swim and Taiwanese chill-rockers Sunset Rollercoaster decided to team up, there was no telling what would happen. Would the result veer towards the synth-heavy tropical pop ways of Gym and Swim, or would it take on the more hazed out, laid-back approach of Sunset Rollercoaster? It turns out that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. “Don’t Leave Me Behind,” taken off of Gym and Swim’s Amazing PingPong Show EP, retains the unique identities of both groups, creating a universally appealing song that fans of both will fall in love with.
Relaxed and breezy, it’s amazing how “Don’t Leave Me Behind” balances the sounds across the ten people involved with both groups. Ironically, even though the song itself is about a mutual split, “Don’t Leave Me Behind” is a cohesive song. From the obviously Sunset Rollercoaster-esque instrumental composition, jazz-inspired solos and the beautifully uplifting choral flourishes, “Don’t Leave Me Behind” has to be the chillest crossover of the year.
“Nusrat on the Beach”
Perhaps no artist this year fully embraced the sounds of summertime like Humeysha (Zain Alam) did on his tropical psych-pop song “Nusrat on the Beach.” With sounds that are reminiscent of lush tranquility, Alam and his lovely brand of indie pop layers devotional lyrics with elements from his own cultural background. Largely present is also Alam’s love for South Asian instrumentation, which washes over the track in kaleidoscopic waves.
Dedicated to, inspired by, and named after Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Khan, “Nusrat on the Beach” pays tribute while expanding upon his undeniably inspirational legacy.
If there’s one thing that the indie music community can confidently say made 2019 a great year for music, it was the return of R&B/pop magician Jai Paul. It’s been years since the London-based musician released his widely influential “BTSTU” and “jasmine (demo),” so when Jai Paul dropped “Do You Love Her Now” / “He” earlier this year, there was much cause for celebration. Luckily, both songs proved that even after all these years, he still hasn’t lost his touch.
“He,” the arguably better song of the two (though a case could be made for both), finds Paul back in his element: making chugging, industrial R&B bliss within the underground club scene. It’s all here within the stark production. Once again, Paul’s peripherally smooth vocals shine, contrasting against the pulsating, morphing beat. Dark, ridiculously groovy, and even complete with a funky breakdown that would make even the most dance-averse people want to bob their head along. “He” is a triumphant return for a master at work.
“Lose My Mind” (ft. Mr Gabriel)
Is it fair to categorize “Lose My Mind” as an EDM song? Even though long-time New York-based DJ Jai Wolf (Sajeeb Saha) is well known for his grand, epic-sounding songs and sets, “Lose My Mind” seems like an interesting change of pace for the musician. Enlisting some help from vocalist Mr Gabriel, “Lose My Mind” is not the traditional headbanger that Jai Wolf is accustomed to making, but it retains all of the starry-eyed charms of all of his other songs. It’s a song that resonates and shakes as Mr Gabriel ruminates over the thoughts in his head. They’re a beautifully matched pair.
But more than anything, “Lose My Mind” a gorgeous showcase of Saha’s flexibility in music-making, allowing himself to tap into new territory. Rest assured that Saha is willing to push his musical boundaries out to great success. Even without venue-shaking drops and bubblegum vocalists, “Lose My Mind” remains a steady banger.
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Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!
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