The Best Song of 2019 is “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend

In the past, contributors have submitted top-five lists of their favorite albums of the year, from which we’ve usually been able to derive an official site Album of the Year. This year, our choices were simply too disparate. But there were a few songs that kept showing up, again and again, and we were able to cobble together this official mini-list:

The Top 5 Songs of 2019!

  1. “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend
  2. “Juice” by Lizzo
  3. “Seventeen” by Sharon Van Etten
  4. “The Best” by Self Esteem
  5. “When Am I Going to Lose You” by Local Natives

“Harmony Hall” was a clear consensus favorite, so we had a quick discussion about why this particular Vampire Weekend song rose to triumph in this particular year.

In past years, we’ve come to some kind of a loose consensus for a album of the year, but this year the best we could manage was a single that a majority of us placed in the upper echelons of our best-song lists: “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend. Even as someone who had it high on his list, I’m a little surprised — not because I don’t love Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City is easily one of my favorite albums of the just-concluded decade) but because this is such a gentle tune, even by their generally not-exactly-hard-rocking standards.Offhand, halfway through the year, I probably would have guessed that I’d go with the anthemic Charly Bliss song “Chatroom” for my single of the year, but here I am, stumping for “Harmony Hall.” So I have a couple of related questions to kick things off: There are a whole hell of a lot of songs off of Father of the Bride, the album that includes “Harmony Hall”; what sets this one apart? It was the first single; did we just glom onto that? (I’m searching for reasons we didn’t all choose one of the multiple songs where Danielle Haim sings co-lead.) Is it the wordless hook, or the way the piano melody comes in at just the right moment? Or is it something else entirely I haven’t yet hit upon?

As a dinosaur who still considers the album to be the primary mode of experiencing music, I’m generally oblivious to singles, so I had honestly never listened to “Harmony Hall” until I put on Father of the Bride as a whole. And while it was thrilling to suddenly hear Danielle Haim show up on a Vampire Weekend record, her appearance somehow became forgettable once the record moved along to track 2. It isn’t as though “Harmony Hall” is a radical song or anything; it’s pretty basic in terms of structure. But there’s beauty in its simplicity: the way the straightforward verses steadily build to the sneakily clever pre-chorus (“singers harmonize till they can’t hear anything”), which in turn sets up that ferocious hook (“wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified”), which IN TURN builds to something even more glorious (those triumphant “ooh ooh oohs”). Again, Ezra Koenig isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but there’s still something thrilling about the way he crafts the song, like how the guitar bridge slowly climbs the scale, setting up one last raucous round of celebratory chanting.

One of my silly metrics for classifying the enduring power of a song is how likely it is to make me start dancing terribly in the middle of my office, and while Jesse’s right that “Harmony Hall” is a decidedly gentle track, by that measure it’s positively indecent. Seriously, after this song came out, I needed to assemble a heist team so that I could break into my building’s IT department and delete the security footage of me rocking out like Elaine in Seinfeld. That seems absurd, given how delicate the melody is, but when that chorus kicks in, the song’s elegant construction somehow becomes overpowering.

Marisa, you’re something of a Vampire Weekend aficionado, and I know that one of your favorites is “Hannah Hunt”, which is even cleaner and sparer than “Harmony Hall”. Do you like this new one because of Koenig’s usual, hyper-literate lyrics (there’s apparently a Charles Stuart reference in here, though I had no idea until I looked it up)? Or the way he calls back to “Finger Back” with the faux-tortured line, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”? Or do you just like it because it makes you dance like a lunatic? (Not that I have anyone in mind.)

Jeremy, you already locked into a couple of my favorite features of the song: the “singers harmonize until they can’t hear anything” (with the extra voices), and the call-back to “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.” (As Hold Steady fans, we must both be suckers for callbacks.) I think you probably hit on the reason why you shouldn’t trust me to choose a Single of the Year: I go with what has the most little moments that make me happy. (I think that’s also why Lizzo made such a strong showing on our lists, or at least on mine. “Juice” is an immediate picker-upper.) So while Danielle Haim and Steve Lacy’s voices are definitely bonuses, “2021” has Jenny Lewis and reminds me of the “Orange Shirt”/Rostam-ish side of the band in a good way, and “Sunflower” has the Zabar’s video, “Harmony Hall” is more uplifting in a way that those songs are not. I’d say that’s maybe not always the best way to evaluate songs, but it’s 2020 and we need to squeeze out every bit of joy that we can. Sara, do you agree? From reading a bunch of your Track Marks on the site, I’m interested to hear what you have to say about VW’s most recent outing.

I’d say the word “joy” is definitely the key to its appeal, Marisa. Frankly, I was just happy that we were getting new Vampire Weekend music at all as I think it was an open question after Rostam left the band in 2016 whether they’d get another record out, or what they’d sound like when they did. VW has always struck me as a highly collaborative band, and one I have a certain nostalgia for, given that the release of their debut dovetailed nicely with my move to New York and basically soundtracked my first few months in the city. So in a way listening to the opening chords of “Harmony Hall” felt a little like hearing from old friends again, which is funny because once you start paying attention to the lyrics you realize how full of apprehension, and even dread, they are (welcome to every commiserating dinner party I’ve been to since the last election.) I found FOTB to be a mixed bag overall with fewer songs that have stuck with me, and a tendency to indulge some of Koenig’s quirks to its occasional detriment. (This extends beyond the album, too: Is it possible to cover Post Malone in an interesting and worthwhile way? I’d argue VW unintentionally makes the case that it’s not.) The only other track that I considered for my personal list was “Sympathy,” which perhaps comes closest to capturing the African-indebted sound of their Contra days, albeit in a much darker tone than we’re used to. Still I keep coming back to “Hall” because of its warmth, the “opening your window for the first time since October” vibe it radiates. I was a big fan of Lizzo’s “Juice” and its you-go-girl style too, but there’s something to be said for a song that envelopes you rather than lifts you up. It’s a different kind of comfort, but one I needed a lot of in 2019.

I’d be curious to hear what someone who’s maybe a little more lukewarm on the band than the rest of us thinks though. Randy, I’m calling you out here!

A Cautionary Tale
by Randy Locklair

It was June 2008. Young Randy invited his future wife Nicole to a backyard BBQ in Brooklyn. It was the same day as a Central Park Vampire Weekend concert. Young Nicole almost chose preppy white boys playing appropriated African sounds over the BBQ, but instead now they are happily married with a wonderful 4-year-old and lives filled with music.

Moral of the story: Never choose Vampire Weekend.

Also, the 18-year-old versions of yourselves are mad at you for leaving Billie Eilish out of this.They say “You promised yourself you wouldn’t turn into your parents and not understand new music. Boy, are you a disappointment. Next thing you’re gonna tell me you like early concerts and that all-ages crowds are annoying. UGH.”

Maybe it’s because I don’t know any actual young people (at least over the age of 5 or so), but almost everyone who has recommended Billie Eilish to me has been my age or older! Maybe it’s secretly actually young-people music for old people.

I said what I said.

With Randy’s cautionary advice both in mind and flouted, here are five individual top-ten lists that make up our favorite songs of this year:

1. “Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend
2. “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” Sigrid
3. “Cheerleader,” Sir Babygirl
4. “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” Local Natives
5. “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” Taylor Swift
6. “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore,” Alex Lahey
7. “Movies,” Weyes Blood
8. “Not in Kansas.” The National
9. “California,” Lana Del Rey
10. “Without a Blush,” Hatchie

1. “Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend
2. “Chatroom,” Charly Bliss
3. “Traditional Village,” The Hold Steady
4. “Seventeen,” Sharon Van Etten
5. “The Best,” Self Esteem
6. “Want You In My Room,” Carly Rae Jepsen
7. “Hurry On Home,” Sleater-Kinney
8. “Saw Lightning,” Beck
9. “Sister Buddha,” Belle & Sebastian
10. “Dylan Thomas,” Better Oblivion Community Center

1. “Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend
2. “The Best” & “Monster,” Self Esteem
3. “Hard to Believe,” Charly Bliss
4. “Gotta Get Into Something,” Gary Clark Jr.
5. “Juice,” Lizzo
6. “Wasted Youth,” Jenny Lewis
7. “The Stove and the Toaster,” The Hold Steady
8. “Sister Buddha,” Belle & Sebastian
9. “Where Is Her Head,” The National
10. “Lost in the Woods,” Weezer

1. “my strange addiction,” Billie Eilish
2. “Quiet Light,” The National
3. “This Land,” Gary Clark Jr.
4. “Tell Me What You Mean By That,” Japanese Wallpaper
5. “Juice,” Lizzo
6. “Boy With Luv,” BTS featuring. Halsey
7. “Can’t Find My Heart,” Broken Social Scene
8. “Every Wave to Ever Rise,” American Football (featuring Elizabeth Powell)
9. “Circles,” Mallrat (featuring Fossa Beats)
10. “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” Local Natives

1. “Seventeen,” Sharon Van Etten
2. “Cellophane,” FKA twigs
3. “Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend
4. “Lark,” Angel Olsen
5. “Rylan,” The National
6. “Freelance,” Toro y Moi
7. “Cattails,” Big Thief
8. “In Your Head,” Nilufer Yana
9. “Devotion,” Pure Bathing Culture
10. “Juice,” Lizzo