From the Intercom: The 50 Best Songs of 2019
“nervous” (ft. BADBADNOTGOOD)
On “nervous,” Toronto-based musician Jonah Yano verifies that he’s a free spirit. Mixing elements of jazz-fusion and downtrodden R&B, “nervous” is a peculiar kind of beast that shines in its free form. Backed by instrumental jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, Yano rambles on like he’s in a strange, amorphous dream with surprising ease. Opening with what sounds like stringy outtakes from the Earthbound soundtrack and building to a tumbling chorus of unconventionally whimsical melodies, there are enough sonic oddities here to fully capture your attention.
Piling on scant references to a relaxed day (“I called you on purpose / Because I know you have the time” and “Put your records on / In and out of sleep”), Yano is rightfully at peace–depicting a serene scene that breezily floats on and on with ease.
Music streaming king khai dreams does not disappoint.
On “Sunkissed” off of his latest Now and Then EP, khai dreams embodies the perfect, care-free summer day by fully leaning into his Internet-friendly pop sound. Sunny acoustics paired with breezy percussions make for a seriously addictive tune. Complimented by khai’s hypnotically smooth vocals, “Sunkissed” is a feel-good anthem guaranteed to shine on the gloomiest of days. – Clarissa Aben
Brisbane-based indie rock artists Last Dinosaurs have long been known as a band that brings a certain spunkiness to the scene. Take a listen to the group’s pleasantly peppy album Yumeno Garden and you’ll notice that they have a vitality that is hard to replicate. Tackling very personal experiences and relationship woes, Last Dinosaurs have since flourished thanks to the empathetic nature of their songs. But on this year’s “FMU” (Fucking Me Up), the band takes on more difficult topics that seem much grander in scale–namely, the Hong Kong protests that have been happening for most of 2018.
Written about a hypothetical conversation between Hong Kong and China, “FMU” allows the band to give a collective voice to those who are fighting for their rights. “I need you to tell it to me straight / Baby, why you tryna throw it all away / Yeah, the things you do are really not okay / You’re fucking me up,” lead singer Sean Caskey points out. It’s inspiring to hear a band voicing their concerns about the situation, especially when so many different countries and popular figures have fallen silent on the issue. Further propelling the charm of the song is the universality of the message, making it instantly replayable for anyone who has experienced that same damaging relationship. While “FMU” remains largely neutral politically, “FMU” is a plucky show of solidarity, delineating the protest on an empathetic level.
After three years of silence following her excellent pop-oriented album Simple Mind, Korean singer Lim Kim returned to the scene in an explosive manner. Dropping an extravagantly choreographed video for her comeback single “YELLOW” (in all caps, no less), Lim Kim returned to the scene with a boisterous attitude and a devilishly confident persona. Gone are the days of quirky pop (“Awoo,” “All Right”)… Lim Kim is back and she’s here to slay.
Combining traditionally East Asian instruments and motifs, “YELLOW” stands out not just for its flippant message but also because of the re-appropriated pop sounds she’s brought to the table. There are elements of everything here–the discordant production, Kim’s trance-inducing vocal performance (rap bars in one instance and unconventional wailing in the other), abrasive instrumentation, and even challenging beats which make it so hard to pin down as a genre. It’s a song that will make you question what pop even means–especially when it’s compared to the squeaky-clean pop acts that have started to permeate Internet culture. Perhaps even more interesting is Kim’s domineering message of reclaiming her own identity as an Asian woman and finding independence as an artist. With fiery lyrics like “I choose my own fucking seat” and “This is Asian phenomenon / Yellow female strikes back,” Kim is forging her own path forward regardless of what you think.
Lil Asian Thiccie & Zamaera
Every year there’s a song that comes out that’s pure chaotic fun. You know the type: the song where the rappers themselves don’t take each other too seriously, the ones that get stuck in your head at the most inopportune times, and the ones that border between sheer annoyance and reluctant move-busting. “Get Munni,” for those of you not yet in the know, is 2019’s unabashed party song. Featuring Malay rappers Lil Asian Thiccie (that name!) and Zamaera, “Get Munni” flaunts more attitude and winking confidence on this one track than any other artist did this year.
While Thiccie (is it cool if we refer to her as thiccie?) and Zamaera’s song may be about the hustle of making money, between the track’s sick beat and the duo’s fresh raps (I’ve written before about how Zamaera, especially, spits fire) “Get Munni” drips with braggadocious sass. When the two go at it, they go at it hard… and that’s the reason why “Get Munni” stood out so much in a sea of great rap songs. In the hands of anyone else, the mind-numbingly repetitive chorus (“Get munni / Get dis munni munni”) might not be as convincing, but Thiccie and Zamaera inject their playfully mischievous personalities into all of their lines.
The hustle, as we all know, is all too real–so why not have Lil Asian Thiccie and Zamaera make that hustle a lot more fun?
“All of Our Friends Know”
It’s no secret that we’re fans of Singaporean singer-songwriter Linying. Despite releasing only a handful of songs throughout the past few years, she’s one of the reasons why the Singaporean music scene has constantly drawn our attention. And as a bonus, she sounds amazing live.
So when the singer released the shy, confessional “All of Our Friends Know” on Valentine’s Day, there was much cause for celebration. Infusing indie pop instrumentation with her delicate vocals, “All of Our Friends Know” was the obvious step forward from her chamber-like pop songs of the past. By conjuring up images of bright pink feelings via clever lyricism, Linying tells a story that seems so intimate that it feels like you’re living it with her. Specific images that dot her reveries: “I want to hear it from you first / Wear it out of you like I do my best blue jacket,” “We’re knocking our teeth / Kissing like in dreams / Sober for the first time,” pay tribute to those poetic romances that only come alive once in a lifetime. “All of Our Friends Know,” with all of its pastels and intimacy, is the best confession that anyone can ask for.
Mongolian indie folk musician Magnolian (Dulguun Bayasgalan) first came to prominence after releasing his 2016 intimately raw viral debut Famous Men EP, making a splash in the independent music scene in his country. Now, a feature-length film later, Bayasgalan has returned to his music–starting with “Indigo,” a similar folksy ballad that acts as a strong declaration of the musician’s love to a special someone.
Using metaphorical colors to describe his budding feelings, “Indigo” flourishes with happiness. Artfully imagining a hopeful future, Bayasgalan can barely contain the excitement within his voice. “I’m indigo and violet and blue / I’m so in love with you! / Lingering and laying in the cold / Galvanize my soul!” he exclaims, expressing a teeming love that comes straight from the heart. Backed by a full band and a scintillating repetitive motif that echoes throughout, “Indigo” is a smiling love song that will easily win you over.
“For Aisha” (ft. Evan GIIA, Nooran Sisters)
For the members of New York DJ duo Ishaan Chaudhary and Will Curry, “For Aisha” is more than just another banger. It’s a beautifully uplifting eulogy. Dedicated to Aisha Chaudhary, Ishaan’s sister who became a public figure through her inspirational speeches based on her fight with pulmonary fibrosis, “For Aisha” is a bittersweet goodbye that shifts its attention to the happiness that is present in life.
Cooperating with singers EVAN GIIA and the Nooran Sisters, “For Aisha” is positively radiant, paying tribute to the positive outlook on life that Aisha herself had championed. Even if listeners might not know about the sad circumstances surrounding the song’s creation, that vivacious spirit reverberates throughout the song… bringing joy to anyone who hears it.
“OUTTA MY MIND”
R&B whiz Monsune (Scott Zhang) first turned heads on his 2017’s viral hit “Nothing In Return,” but “OUTTA MY MIND” is another beast altogether. Channeling the neo-funk soul akin to that of Childish Gambino, “OUTTA MY MIND” is a triumphant follow-up for a musician who previously only had one single to his name.
Once again building his song off of enchanting samples, “OUTTA MY MIND” is an expansively opulent showcase of what Zhang can do, cementing him as one of the year’s most exciting artists. Smooth, sexy, and vibrant, “OUTTA MY MIND” exudes unrestrained grooviness down to its clamoring lyrics and its climactic high note. Few artists are able to achieve such lushness (especially when it comes to their sophomore song!) in such a cohesive package, but Zhang has shown us that it’s possible… and it’s only going to go up from here.
“Devil Girl” (ft. CeCefayce)
“Dreamy” is a word that is used to describe many an artist in this day and age, but perhaps none more so than Nathan Bajar. As both a photographer and a musician, Bajar’s work is defined by faded out images, blurred focal points, and hazy production. Take a look at Bajar’s obfuscated cover photo for his debut Playroom–or even his press images for Long Beard’s Sweetheart released this year–and you’ll see how he implements dreaminess into a tangible form.
On “Devil Girl,” the best song off of Playroom, that woozy, fuzzy production is still there. However, that all-encompassing fog has slightly parted, leaving an outlined compositional form that can be traced out. Aided by fellow musician CeCefayce’s sultry vocals, “Devil Girl” takes on a chill, crawling, expressive form. There are multiple innovative beat breaks throughout the song, a chorus of refreshing “aahhhs,” and meandering notes… all topped off by Bajar’s own vocal harmonies. It’s interesting how many twists and turns “Devil Girl” takes you through, stringing you along amongst the haze. But at the end of it all, the aesthetic, slightly muted song clears up and Bajar takes you on a ride that’s sure to surprise.
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!