Young women blurring genres, global artists pushing boundaries and a rapper playing with a meme made the most exciting tracks of the year.
Going way, way over the top, Lizzo’s knowing but wholehearted take on an old-fashioned, orchestral soul ballad tosses around profanities as she belts it to the rafters.
A few tolling piano notes open a world of loneliness, cavernous and barren, around FKA twigs’ voice as she copes with self-doubt, jealousy and aching need.
The calm, husky tone and understated beats of Burna Boy, from Nigeria, belie a determination to unite Africa and its diaspora. This track from his 2019 album, “African Giant,” is both insinuating and ambitious.
Carried by pulsing keyboards and a bashing beat, Kevin Parker — the one-man studio band Tame Impala — confronts all the misgivings of being a grown-up still making pop music.
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From the album “Ghosteen,” Nick Cave’s magnificently sustained reverie on grief, family and eternity, comes this billowing waltz, a mythic vision that falls to earth and finds another way to ascend.
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Crescendos rise like tidal waves in this retro, string-laden torch song that carries girl-group drama to an operatic peak.
A meditative, mysterious song about time, transformation and connection, fervently sung over folky acoustic guitars.
Khalid’s approach couldn’t be more sensitive — “Can’t we just talk/Figure out where we’re going?” — as synthesizer chords tiptoe forward ever so tentatively, even as the tryst proceeds.
In a whispery, bedroom-sized reduction of grungy indie rock, Clairo ponders whether physical attraction will outweigh a lovers’ quarrel, striving to maintain her deadpan as feelings surge.
A Mexican-American born in Los Angeles, Angelica Garcia proclaims her bicultural heritage — “wearing my roots and flying this flag” — over a snowballing, polyrhythmic buildup that melds Mexican rhythms and electronic savvy.
The perpetually rebellious Algerian songwriter Rachid Taha left behind an album in progress when he died in 2018. Its title song, “Je Suis Africain,” praises an African heritage that extends worldwide, and backs it up with a Pan-African groove fusing elements from Congo, Senegal, Algeria and beyond.
Bruce Hornsby melds chamber music, jazz, Minimalism and a folksy hoedown with some science-based metaphors to offer advice and warnings for the future of humanity. Cosmic enough?
Soul music’s gospel foundations sustain Baby Rose’s strikingly deep, tearful voice as she faces a modern quandary: Should she drunk-dial her ex?
14. Nella, ‘Voy’
A Venezuelan singer who moved to the United States and attended Berklee College of Music, Nella won the 2019 Latin Grammy for best new artist. She forged a trans-Atlantic musical partnership with Javier Limón, a Spanish producer and songwriter who brought out her affinity for flamenco and wrote “Voy” (“I Go”), a lean, lilting song about picking up and moving into the unknown.
Rockabilly meets Radiohead, with a backbeat below and a canopy of feedback above Adia Victoria’s voice, in “A Different Kind of Love.” It’s a checklist of failed romances from a songwriter pushing Americana toward sonic experimentation.