Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
5. Rammstein – Ausländer
The return of Rammstein this year has generally been heralded as one of the standout moments of 2019, and even if their self-titled album wasn’t as incredible as so many made out (even if it was still good), a track like Ausländer stands as a true monolith of work on its own. Melding titanic Eurodance synths with the band’s typically steamrolling industrial metal has a lot of promise on its own, and Till Lindemann’s deliberately playful delivery as he rattles through his global escapades gives the whole thing a sense of life and fun that the very cold, clinical exterior mightn’t otherwise suggest. Along with the fact that this is just a riotous time in every way, it’s those turns that make Ausländer – and indeed, Rammstein as a whole – so appealing; when fun is largely considered a dirty word, something like this embraces it so wholeheartedly that it’s hard not to be swept up in the electricity of it all. After all, when has been like Rammstein to avoid some dirty words?
4. The Glorious Sons – Spirit To Break
The Glorious Sons have always been good at writing straightforward, no-nonsense rock songs, but the fact they’ve now got one that handily leapfrogs over most of everything else released this year speaks volumes to how good Spirit To Break really is. Razor-tight but gloriously erratic and electrified at the same time, Spirit To Break pushes past the stock, cut-and-paste nature that mars so much of this brand of rock and injects a sense of danger back into it, with Brett Emmons’ narrator grappling with his own debilitating sense of nihilism as it stands in his way of achieving something close to real hope. On top of that, the hook is as enormous as it rightfully should be, bulking up the jagged guitars for a stellar rock song in almost every regard. To say it’s probably The Glorious Sons’ best song to date alongside all of that wouldn’t be too much of a stretch either.
3. Marianas Trench – The Death Of Me
As a whole, Marianas Trench’s Phantoms entirely shows how much more capable they are than the vast, vast majority of other bands when it comes to pulling off the poppiest end of rock, but the fact that a song like The Death Of Me sticks so resoundingly even away from that scene really marks it down as something special. It’s the sort of ballad that’s a natural fit for this band, in which the theatrics and tremendous dramatic swell reach multiple apexes alongside what’s effectively an EDM song structure that crescendos almost perfectly against the deep yet ghostly backdrop of synths and atmosphere that only fits better and better with every listen. As for the writing, Josh Ramsey can convey heartbreak and the struggles of moving on with more fervour than most despite the rather simplistic lyrics, and a fantastic range that intermingles with a natural earnestness and power makes the sense of scope feel all the bigger. This was one of the peaks of pop-rock in 2019, and even if it’s continued to fly under the radar for so many, it’s the sort of song with an impact that’ll last for a long time to come.
2. Puppy – Poor Me
On an album like The Goat where virtually any song could’ve been a single and smash one at that, it says a lot that Poor Me feels as defining of where Puppy are as a band as it does. As is to be expected, the hook-crafting and melody is utterly exquisite as the band dip into the grunge side of their sound with the slithering bassline and deep, entrenched guitars, all with a distinctly poppy flavour that makes the whole thing feel even more ironclad. But beyond that, there’s the production job which captures the sweltering, smoky darkness of Jock Norton’s assertions of watching everything crumble around him as he sits at the epicentre, waiting to be brought down with it. If anything, it shows how a more tempered, even subdued take on this sound can work just as well as the metal that typically comprises this band’s work, but the near-perfect construction and composition is what gives Poor Me its true excellence. It’s timeless yet perfectly in touch with the experimental zeitgeist of the very best of modern rock, and not once do Puppy even come close to faltering.
1. Bring Me The Horizon – heavy metal
heavy metal has been the subject of a lot of the conversation surrounding Bring Me The Horizon this year, both in terms of that ending, and in how it felt to many like a full-blown severing of the ties between the heavier band that so many loved and where they are now. And while that’s not wrong, at the same time there’s a lot to appreciate about just how much this song does on top of that, standing as a phenomenal, adrenalised rock track in its own right before flaunting a versatility that was only exacerbated on amo, bringing onboard The Roots’ Rahzel for a beatbox interlude and throwing in a deathcore outro as a means of simultaneously closing the book on that chapter of their career for good, and serving as the most effective troll possible for those who continue to dog this band for not being exactly how they were over a decade ago. The fact the band embrace that is where this song really goes over the top, with a snideness and sarcasm that highlights how little they really care in a way that could come across as needlessly dickish, but ultimately is the natural point in which tolerance bubbles over and something needs to be said to shut them up for good. It’s not on the same tier of greatness as tracks that have topped this list in previous years, but heavy metal earns this spot for how bold and brazen it really is, and when there’s something that needs to be said with gusto, cranking that up is a surefire way of doing it extremely well.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
5. Wallows – Only Friend
Their debut album Nothing Happens didn’t do much to establish Wallows as anything more than another faceless indie band (whose singer happens to be a famous actor), but they did have one of the best songs of the year in opener Only Friend. It’s a track that bobs along gorgeously, Dylan Minnette’s mellow vocals and narrative voice guiding you through a realisation of a loss of innocence. It’s total soaring, soundtracking-a-teen-movie music that you can’t help but be taken in by, a niche that Wallows should definitely hone in on making more.
4. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
If one song at Chemical Brothers’ festival sets sounded truly exquisite this year, it was the title track from most recent album No Geography. Based on a sample of Michael Brownstein’s reading of his poem Geography, it’s an anthem of togetherness, designed purely to spark feelings in crowds of thousands. No Geography is a club banger whose words are easy enough to learn, but it’s also a track that rouses en masse, one that swoops between mood-setting mellow passages and euphoric crescendos, so well in fact that the three minutes flash by every time. Replayability is something dance tracks like this have in spades; the warmth this song gives off both musically and semantically is addictive. When the last chords fizzle out, the final “I’ll take you home with me” sticks with you, and if you’ve not been made a victim of the emotional energy from the electronics in the song, the lovely sentiment of Brownstein’s work has to leave you feeling fuzzy.
3. Yonaka – Rockstar
Charisma is one of the things Yonaka have in spades, but it’s on track Rockstar where they balance their personality and confidence with their more human side. The wide-eyed lyrics Theresa Jarvis sings about her dreams of being adored by fans every night, making loads of money and fucking up hotel rooms voice thoughts that everyone has had at least some point in their lives (an image further conjured up in the video for the song). It could be all to easy for subject material like this to come off as cheesy or childish, but the full band effort makes Rockstar an almost aspirational song with a hype-inducing buildup to an epic instrumental break. As said, other songs on Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow showcase swagger and a more ballsy side of Yonaka, Rockstar is a brilliant modern pop-rock song with heart, and it’s songs like this that make Yonaka’s future look bright.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Want You In My Room
One of the most fun moments on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated is Want You In My Room, a song where she fully embraces her love of ’80s pop (that was already a huge obvious influence on much-adored previous album Emotion) to make a banger dripping in her own personal brand of lust. Making her point with a very direct title, Jepsen plays everything off with coyness, a sentiment that works wonders with her hushed, playful delivery of parts of the track. Jack Antonoff’s production not only makes this a vibrant anthem complete with a vocal-distortion hook, quirky percussion and funky sax outro, but helps create a perfect environment for Jepsen’s specific talent. One of the most infectious tracks of the year.
1. Taylor Swift – Cornelia Street
Taylor Swift is at her songwriting best when she’s at her most personal, and her lyrics on Cornelia Street are part of what makes the song the highlight of Lover. This song sees Swift recount the beginnings of a relationship in a ridiculous amount of depth, taking the idea that her songs are like diary entries to her to a whole new extreme. Her clever phrasing and eye for details paints such a vivid romantic picture (“memorise the creaks in the floor”, “drunk on something stronger than the drinks in the bar”), and the minimal backing behind her – piano chords and a fluttering synth being the mainstays throughout – not only makes her vocal contributions the focus, but gives the song a magical, butterflies in the stomach feel. Aside from her refreshingly detailed heart-on-sleeve lyrical approach that is far more eloquent that many other artists could ever dream of being (that lyricism obviously being the star of the show), Cornelia Street epitomises so many things that make Lover great and Swift one of, if not the best pop stars of the decade: maturity, honesty and through-and-through talent.
Words by Luke Nuttall and Georgia Jackson