Best of CH 2019: Listen Up

Genre-blurring music that moved us this year

Music is more than entertainment—it can be a source of inspiration, provocation, awakening. Every day in our Listen Up section, we share our favorite new tunes and, while our collective taste in music is vast, every song we share makes us feel something. We have selected just a few standouts here, but browse our Listen Up 2019 playlist for all the music that sparked something in us this year. We’re pleased that the full list feels diverse—with plenty of songs by musicians of color and queer artists, countless collaborations, and tunes from all over the world. We also noticed even more blurring of genres; many times attempting to categorize a sound fails, in the best possible way. We look forward to much more genre-defying music by artists who refuse compartmentalization next year.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah feat. Saul Williams: Ancestral Recall

One listen to jazz artist Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s “Ancestral Recall,” which features poet and songwriter Saul Williams, reveals a mission beyond music. The track, and forthcoming album of the same name, were “built as a map to decolonize sound; to challenge previously held misconceptions about some cultures of music; to codify a new folkloric tradition and begin the work of creating a national set of rhythms,” Adjuah explains. For this, he’s tapped into West African, First Nation, and African Diaspora/Caribbean rhythms—weaving them succinctly. It’s powerful, and powerfully expressive.

Róisín Murphy: Incapable

Teaming up with longtime collaborator DJ Parrot (aka Crooked Man), Róisín Murphy releases “Incapable”—a house banger about being emotionally inept. The prolific singer/songwriter/producer offers flawless vocals that sashay over the twitchy beat and groovy bass line. The song ebbs and flows gloriously for almost nine minutes of immaculate production.

Rapsody: Ibtihaj

Named for Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first American to wear a hijab when competing for the USA in the Olympics), new single “Ibtihaj,” from North Carolina rapper Rapsody, heavily samples GZA’s “Liquid Swords” and also features the Wu Tang member. Unlike the 1995 track, this release includes the immediately recognizable vocals of D’Angelo. The infectious groove will appear on Rapsody’s upcoming album EVE, which features songs that pay homage to legendary black women, from Nina Simone to Aaliyah, Whoopi Goldberg and second historically-confirmed woman pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Purple Disco Machine: Emotion

Purple Disco Machine (aka Tino Piontek) has been touring his one-man show since 2009—but with the new track “Emotion” Piontek has elevated his sound to greater heights. Sampling The Emotions’ 1976 track “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” he fuses disco, house and plenty of funk. The result is a track that transcends eras—incredible production value aside.

The Delirians, Katzù Oso, É Arenas, Mariachi Lindas Mexicanas + Ulises Lozano: Los Ángeles Lindo Y Querido

Several Mexican-American musicians unite for “Los Ángeles Lindo Y Querido,” a three-track EP—and mash-up compilation, produced by Ulises Lozano— that celebrates bicultural identity. Commissioned by Tecate, the collaborative project draws attention to Mexican-Americans’ influence on the culture of Los Angeles, and pride over Mexican roots and Mexican Independence Day. The song’s diverse sonic spectrum reflects many genres, but all of them toast to the same spirit.

Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li: Late Night Feelings

British musician/producer Mark Ronson has tapped Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li for the latest of his self-proclaimed “sad bangers.” With island, funk and disco influences, “Late Night Feelings” offers up a lush and rich instrumental for Li to sing atop. With steel drums, forlorn vocals and a pared-back breakdown, the song is also the title track of Ronson’s album, which features collaborations with King Princess, Alicia Keys, Yeeba and more.

Kindness feat. Seinabo Sey: Lost Without

A trifecta of CH favorites, Kindness, Seinabo Sey and Kelela have teamed up for a warm house- and disco-influenced tune called “Lost Without.” Co-written by Kindess and Kelela, the song features Swedish singer/songwriter Sey on vocals and string arrangements by Rob Moose—overall creating a sound underpinned by an unfaltering, groovy bass line.

Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals: Keep Your Faith to the Sky

The Time For Peace Is Now, indie label Luaka Bop’s second installment in their World Spirituality Classics compilation series, features a soulful number by Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals. This ’70s-era secular gospel track, “Keep Your Faith to the Sky,” calls upon spirituality—not religion—and addresses how we exist with one another. Soul DJ Greg Belson compiled all of the secular gospel tracks on the album, many of which were discovered on obscure 45s long hidden in attic spaces. The Time For Peace Is Now releases 13 September.

Jessie Ware: Adore You

Mellow and a little haunting, Jessie Ware’s new song “Adore You” (co-written and produced by Metronomy’s Joseph Mount) is a sublime return to the London-based singer/songwriter’s electronic roots. The house-pop track is airy and delicate, and Ware’s vocals are perfectly pared back to match. Part ballad, part disco tune, this is a one-off release at the moment, with no LP announced from Ware since her 2017 record Glasshouse.

Burna Boy: Pull Up

From his critically acclaimed album African Giant, Burna Boy’s “Pull Up” is a lively Afro-fusion track with massive pop appeal. In the Meji Alab-directed video, Burna (aka Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu) is seen riding through London pleading his case to various women. The sultry Afro-Caribbean rhythm bopping under Burna’s effortless, soulful vocals proves to be infectious.

Lizzo + Missy Elliott: Tempo

Lizzo and Missy Elliott have teamed up for the absolute banger “Tempo.” With a beat that’s reminiscent of an early 2000s hip-hop club anthem, it’s a celebration of thick women: “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all of this here to one of those / I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo.” The third track from Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You is certainly one of the most anticipated, with the relative newcomer (Lizzo’s debut record came out in 2013) teaming up with a hip-hop icon for a fiery, dynamic duet.

Jai Paul: Do You Love Her Now

Billed as a double B-side, “Do You Love Her Now” and “He,” is Jai Paul’s first release in some six years. The two songs are quite different, but both are lustrous and undeniably the work of the beloved UK producer. While “He” is more experimental, “Do You Love Her” is a glorious, sultry tune that blends R&B, soft-rock and funk. Paul’s breathy vocals and coos drift over the spacey synths and thudding bass line, resulting in a rich and layered slow jam. Both songs are written, recorded, produced and mixed by Paul, who also released a lengthy statement about his long hiatus and the unauthorized leak of his music back in 2013.

Collard: Hell Song

From his debut album Unholy, “Hell Song” is a genre-bending jam by London-based Collard. With elements of rock, blues, funk and R&B, the track is hazy, sultry and full of Collard’s fiery falsetto. Produced by Zach Nahome, the song will appeal to Prince and D’Angelo fans—but Collard isn’t imitating either of them.

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan: Westlin’ Winds

From the forthcoming album Navarasa : Nine Emotions, out 24 January 2020, the track “Westlin’ Winds” again unites Scottish folk guitarist James Yorkston, English jazz double-bassist Jon Thorne, and Indian sarangi-player Suhail Yusuf Khan. Almost 10 minutes in length, the song weaves together captivating string instrumentation with empowered vocals in Purbi (a dialect of old Hindi) that at-times call upon the work of beloved poet Robert Burns. As each track on the album embodies one of nine emotions, “Westlin’ Winds” represents abdutha, or an amalgamation of surprise and wonder.