The most underrated songs of 2019
We look at all the songs we think should have gotten more attention this year
'Tis the season to look at our favourite albums, music videos and the artists who broke out in 2019. But it's also the time that we look back at songs we think haven't been as appreciated as they should've been. At least, not yet.
From Chris LaRocca to Strange Breed, Better Oblivion Community Centre to Corridor (and a cover by Dan Mangan that we did not expect but love), we've collected all the hidden gems that we think you'll love, too.
Are these songs already on your list? Do you have more to add? Hit us up on Twitter: @CBCMusic.
'Salt,' Chris LaRocca
The Portuguese word "saudade" doesn't readily translate into English. The closest you can get is "nostalgia," but that doesn't quite capture the word's implied pain. Of the songs on Chris LaRocca's 2019 EP Saudade, "Salt" comes closest to representing the album's title. "I wish you never looked my way/ wish I wasn't shook this way," he laments over a simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar and finger snaps, smarting from the song's titular salt being rubbed in his emotional wound. With limpid vocals and poetic turns of phrase, LaRocca reminds us that "falling deep" is a double-edged sword — the pleasurable pain at saudade's core.
— Robert Rowat
'Number One Fan,' Muna
Katie Gavin kicks off "Number One Fan" in pretty dramatic fashion: "So I heard the bad news/ nobody likes me and I'm gonna die alone." But this single off California synth-pop trio Muna's latest album, Saves the World, isn't a complete downer. In fact, it's one of the year's most fun and empowering anthems.
Its pre-chorus refocuses immediately, batting away any exterior negativity for a pivotal pep talk with oneself: "I've been looking at myself in the mirror saying/ 'Don't leave me now, don't leave me now.'" In the end, you must root for yourself before anyone else can, and Muna has created the perfect mantra to shout back at yourself in your darkest moments: "'Oh my God, like, I'm your number one fan/ so iconic, like big, like stan, like/ I would give my life just to hold your hand/ I'm your number one fan." So what are you waiting for? Become your own icon.
— Melody Lau
The music video for "Vent," the lead single off Joël's debut EP, Grunge Gospel - Side A, depicts the overalls and Converse-clad artist sweeping a stock room before breaking into effortless, freestyle dance. It's a simple concept, but an effective visual metaphor for Joël's music at this point in his budding career: beauty in between the lines, stories ready to be told from the most unlikely of places. The GTA artist's poised flavour of woozy R&B feels far advanced past a debut effort, and just like the "Vent" video, it already feels wrong to look away from him — especially knowing that he could be mere minutes away from becoming the next biggest thing.
— Jess Huddleston
'Witch Hunt,' Strange Breed
A band that smashes the heteronormative patriarchy and our eardrums with pounding, punishing garage rock-punk anthems? Strange Breed is the queer feminist quartet we need now and forever, and I could have chosen any song off their 2019 debut, Permanence, but I went with "Witch Hunt" and the shouted refrain that grows more powerful in its repetition."What do you stand for/ what do you believe?" is both a radical inquiry, an indictment and an invitation in Strange Breed's brilliant delivery.
— Andrea Warner
'Didn't Know What I Was in For,' Better Oblivion Community Centre
"My telephone, it doesn't have a camera.
If it did I'd take a picture of myself.
If it did I'd take a picture of the water.
And the man on the offramp,
Holding up the sign that's asking me for help."
Who isn't dreaming about a telephone that doesn't have a camera these days? The opening line of the self-titled album by Better Oblivion Community Centre (made up of Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst) has been ringing in my head all year. As it continues, it maps out a captivating set of scenes about the madness of the modern world, the failings of capitalism and the futility of it all. How very 2019.
If you listen closely, you can hear Bridgers coaxing Oberst to temper his signature warble, while Oberst encourages Bridgers to belt it out with those raw screams we've been hearing more of in her collaborative endeavours (Better Oblivion Community Centre, boygenius). Their layered voices add the perfect textures to this dystopian love letter of a song, an eerie lullaby for the sleep-deprived sad ones.
— Julia Caron
Few songs have sparked as much joy this year as Corridor's "Domino," a crashing guitar-pop anthem about navigating the negative impacts that being an artist can have on the people closest to you, built on that earworm of an opening riff and a bassline that just won't quit. The first francophone band to sign to Seattle indie powerhouse label Sub Pop (currently repping Julien Baker, Father John Misty and Sleater-Kinney, among many others), Corridor released its debut full-length album, Junior, in October — which finds itself gracing our list of 2019's best francophone albums. "Domino" is hypnotic in its build-up and breakdown, a tight showcasing of the talents of band members Dominic Berthiaume (vocals/bass), Julian Perreault (guitar), Jonathan Robert (vocals/guitar/synths) and Julien Bakvis (drums). Don't sleep on this one.
— Holly Gordon
'Park Bench,' Valley
Based on their penchant for major keys and happy-sounding songs — they have yet to drop one in a minor mode — you'd think Toronto-based pop quartet Valley had never had a bad day. (In fact, they have.) "Park Bench," from 2019's Maybe Side B, continues this joyful trend, leaning on sample-based production that's a fun new direction for the group. "But I'm still stained blue, sitting right next to you," sings Rob Laska in the pre-chorus, with a falsetto tug on your heartstrings. But it doesn't stay wistful for long: at the two-minute mark, they double the tempo, creating a rush of adrenaline guaranteed to get your head bopping in solidarity. — RR
'Glasgow (No Place Like Home),' Jessie Buckley
Wild Rose may not have had the same blockbuster success as last year's hit musical A Star is Born, but the former could find itself in the same best song category where Lady Gaga triumphed at last year's Academy Awards. "Glasgow" is star Jessie Buckley's big finale number in the film, an original written by Oscar-winning actor Mary Steenburgen about protagonist Rose-Lynn Harlan's long, hard journey of self-acceptance and embracing her family and home. (The story behind the song is truly incredible.) Buckley, who has a background in singing and performing but little knowledge of country, transforms into a twangy superstar here, imbuing each lyric with heartfelt emotion and a rousing sense of hope. It would be a shame if Buckley does not take the stage at February's Oscars ceremony. — ML
'Have a Little Faith In Me,' Dan Mangan
"A few years ago, I was asked to pitch a version of this for a TV show and I was struck at how sweet it is. It's the kind of earnest I might have scoffed at in my youth, but in the present, the sentiment is working for me," Dan Mangan tweeted in April about his John Hiatt re-work. One of five covers Mangan released in 2019 — the others included new spins on Lauryn Hill and Cake — it was this hazy take on the 1987 piano ballad that stopped us in our tracks, leading us to also appreciate its uncomplicated beauty, and Mangan's ability to make almost anything sound newly endearing. — JH
'Good Scare,' Torres
The fine line between love and heartbreak is where we most often find Torres, and on "Silver Tongue," the first single off her upcoming January 2020 album of the same name, the singer-songwriter from Georgia is falling head over heels — even if it is scary as hell. "You gave me a good scare for a minute there/ I had never seen that look from you before/ you were eyeing all the exits," she sings, a wave of percussion carrying her forward through that momentary doubt. It's Torres' subversion of the heteronormative country music lens that resets the tone, though, her wit (and heart) shining through: "You make me want to write the country song folks here in New York get a kick out of / I'd sing about knocking you up under Tennessee stars in the bed of my red Chevrolet pickup." We'll take a Torres country song next, please. — HG
'Mr. Sun,' Greentea Peng
This London-based singer dropped "Mr. Sun" in early October, just as the days began to get shorter and shorter, the skies clouded over with the chill of autumn and early winter. Greentea Peng brings a groovy blend of strength and vulnerability in the lyrics of this spectacularly chill song. She made her Colors debut in 2019, the YouTube channel with star-making power, so hopefully in 2020 all the world will be green for Mrs. Peng. — JC
Fans of the early 2000s band Alexisonfire rejoiced this year when the St. Catharines rock band reunited and released its first songs in 10 years. While an album may not be in the cards for the band, the two songs we got — "Familiar Drugs" and "Complicit" — were enough to power us through the rest of the year. The latter, in particular, was a welcomed return to the band's signature formula: killer guitar riffs thrashing up against rampageous drums, all fighting to fill the same space as vocalists George Pettit, Wade MacNeil and Dallas Green. "Face the law without a trace of fear/ I can't see the train because I'm the engineer," Pettit howls, kicking off four minutes of self-reflection on white cis male privilege. In a press release, Pettit added that "there is no freedom and no future in a world that is not inclusive." In a time when many are still fighting against injustices and for their rights, it's reassuring to feel that some understand their roles and can simply admit: "We're all complicit." — ML
'Oh No,' Softee
I have never played "Oh No" for another person — at parties, in cars, at home — who hasn't immediately become a Softee convert and asked the same question I've been asking since first hearing it in June: How doesn't everyone know about this song? The '80s-inspired earworm, about potentially unrequited love and what Softee calls "the ultimate lesbian emotive cycle," glimmers through its many pop peaks and valleys — beckoning verses, that deliciously slow-churning bridge and a chorus which can only be described as the musical equivalent to a Jane Fonda workout video (with confetti). "Oh No" feels good — really good — every time, and if you do one more thing for yourself before the end of 2019, get with the Softee program. — JH
'Sugar,' Tonye Aganaba
Gloriously warm songs that are also genuinely sexy? They're a rarity and a gift the last few years, particularly in Canada where sad-boy sexy has ruled the charts for some time. Non-binary artist Tonye Aganaba's "Sugar," from their 2019 release, Something Comfortable, is playful and provocative, soulful and hot but never thirsty. This is the grownup sound of agency and afterglow, and a fantastic track from one of this country's most often overlooked R&B/soul talents. — AW