With the Old Town Road era at our backs, so too is the chart demolishing, remix-obsessed, mega-hit fantasy culture that came with it. Artists around the globe took note of the unsustainable musical phenomenon sparked by Lil Nas X and used this summer as a proving grounds for counteractive storytelling and relentless creativity. Rather than fixating on how to produce the next great one-hit-wonder, the focus was evidently on developing full-bodied, remarkably original albums. The result was spectacular, as the past three months were decorated with a large chunk of this year’s most memorable and innovative records.

The summer’s most impactful content arguably came from some of the world’s most illustrious pop stars. Unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift currently sits atop that proverbial peak of illustriousness as one of the summer’s biggest winners. Her new album Lover preserves her shameless poise and charming obsession with love songs, yet sprinkles in a new layer of maturity and self-awareness. Lover adds a clever variable of wisdom to Swift’s repertoire of fun bubblegum pop and further sets her apart as one of the most decorated songwriters in the 21st century mainstream.

Taylor may be one the this century’s most revered pop artists, but what will pop music sound like in the 22nd century? Look no further than Charli XCX and the superabundance of big league artists featured on her fifth studio album Charli. Major accounts like Lizzo, HAIM, Christine and the Queens, Troye Sivan, CupcakKe, Clairo, and many more all beautified this already gorgeous collection with their exhilarating and eclectically complementary appearances. Most importantly, Charli herself is as rousing as ever. She provides self-assured elegance and provocative production that together make Charli sound decades past its time.

Pop songs are fun and nice, but there are a lot of unconventional and inventive alternative artists currently converting everyday listeners into religious followers. Bon Iver certainly attracts a cultist fan base with their knack for the artistically outlandish. Their new album i,i is some of their most touching and fearless music released in nearly a decade. Perfectly aligned features like James Blake, Moses Sumney, and Bruce Hornsby pop up throughout, while Justin Vernon’s incredibly singular voice sits confidentially at the forefront of nearly every track. i,i‘s complex eccentricity is refreshingly digestible, adding yet another accolade to Bon Iver’s unblemished career.

While several artists leaned on inventiveness to write their stories, others built their stories on the foundation of personal reinvention. Brittany Howard was a prime example, scaling down from her eminent lead role fronting Alabama Shakes to explore a more bohemian solo venture. Her new sound is daringly dissimilar to that of Alabama Shakes, pushing her voice past familiar boundaries to a place that’s more curious and authentically profound.

Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shire, and Natalie Hemby did just the opposite, setting aside their individual brands and uniting as the formidable country/folk supergroup The Highwomen. Their accord seeks to empower women, highlight their sovereign prestige, and bring to light the oppression they put up with on an all too frequent basis. The Highwomen’s self-titled debut is inspirational to say the least, using their united platform as a medium for awareness, acceptance, and love. They publicize the the challenges and aspirations of keeping a family together with “Crowded Table” and “My Only Child”. They underline the strength of the LGBTQ+ community in “If She Ever Leaves Me”. Most notably, they accentuate female empowerment with songs like “Redesigning Women” and “Highwomen”. All of these inspirational stories are wrapped in the lovable aesthetic of country/folk, and all them seek to proactively bring about change rather than kindly ask the world for help

Enough talking about how endearing these artists are – let’s listen for ourselves. The following playlist contains 30 of my favorite songs released over the past three months. The songs are in no particular order with a restriction of only one song per artist. Keep in mind, with so many amazing stories mixed into this summer’s narrative, a rabbit hole of amazing content is tied to nearly every song’s respective album. Happy listening!

While this summer’s album-centric output was a breath of fresh air, last quarter’s anomaly of hit singles provided some of the best individual songs of the year. Dive into last quarter’s playlist and see what music set this summer in motion: FeenyFaves – Best Songs of 2019: Q2 (April – June)

Flashback to this time last year and some hidden gems we know and love today were fighting for the opportunity to be noticed. Take a trip down memory lane with the best songs released during Q2 of 2018: FeenyFaves – Best Songs of 2018: Q3 (July – September)