Songs of the Month: December 2019
Author and Playlist Curator: Sam Seliger
As we start off the new year, and the new decade, we have one last Songs of the Month playlist to chronicle some of the best new music of the very end of 2019.
December is often a slow month for music, and last year was no exception. As a result, this month’s playlist is only 26 songs, instead of the usual 40. But what it lacks in quantity, this playlist more than makes up for in quality.
The playlist includes 25% of “Fine Line” by former One Direction member Harry Styles, one of the best-selling albums of the year in its first weeks on the shelves. Styles pivoted from the heavier retro-rock of his eponymous 2017 debut, opting for a more diverse and gentle collection of pop-rock. On “To Be So Lonely,” he marries ukulele chords reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s “RAM” with a restrained string section and percussive rhythms of radio-friendly folk-rock.
On the echoey “She,” Styles imagines a life in the wake of a failed relationship. Punctuated by stabs of distorted guitar, the song yearns for the unknown girl who “lives in daydreams” with Styles. Ending with a lengthy multi-tracked guitar solo, it is an epic finale to a sophomore album that once again shows Styles to be far more than just a boy band sensation.
Elsewhere, Maryland rapper Rico Nasty delivers more of her trademark brand of braggadocio, swagger and aggression on her latest single, “Hard.” Over an instrumental from A-list production duo Take A Day Trip, Nasty goes, well, hard. In a hoarse shout, she references Nickelodeon cartoons and brags about her belt. In the second verse, she changes her flow to ruminate on her rapid rise to stardom and deliver a few more punchlines.
In a very stylistically different world is Americana singer Josh Ritter’s “the Gospel of Mary,” which he first debuted in his NPR Tiny Desk Concert in October. The studio version, featuring indie folk duo the Milk Carton Kids, is similarly sparse. For over six minutes, Ritter puts his emotive voice to a piece of gripping and heart-wrenching songwriting. He uses the biblical figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who themselves were refugees, to tell a tragic story of a family trying to immigrate to the United States. The family makes a daring escape in a truck packed with people, only to be struck by tragedy after crossing the border. Eventually, Mary’s child is taken from her, and she is left to lament her life in a country that claims to “welcome strangers in,” and “beckons like a friend.”
At the song’s conclusion, Ritter urges listeners to direct their attention to the real people going through such a struggle, and he ends with the couplet “may the pain within you dwell, and may it follow you to hell, all alone in a tiny cell, forever unforgiven.” It is a striking indictment and call for change in a country that claims to uphold Christian religious values yet puts children in cages away from their parents, as Ritter said himself.
Those songs, and many others, are included on our “Songs of the Month: December 2019” playlist, which can be accessed on Spotify and is also available below.