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Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2018) — August 18, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2018)

 

First of all, yes, I’m late again. Second of all, I got it down to twenty songs for once! This has been a pretty eventful month, sure, but I did kind of feel like the general quality of what was coming out was relatively lackluster compared to the last few months. For the sake of perspective, my initial shortlist for this article was over five pages long, but three edits later it was down to just over forty songs. And while this shortened list comes at the expense of some artists whose releases I would’ve liked to talk about, it feels like a fair summation of my favorite songs this month (that is, songs released outside of the context of an album in the month of July). So let’s just get into it.

20) MILLENNIUM FREESTYLE – JPEGMAFIA

Cult favorite Bandcamp rapper JPEGMAFIA came out swinging earlier this year with the release of Veteran, an album that remains one of 2018’s most acclaimed hip hop releases, but now he’s back with “Millennium Freestyle,” a compelling, enigmatic freestyle that combines a jittering electronic beat with proclamations of independence and interpolations of not one but two ’90s pop tracks (Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo” and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” If you’re looking for answers, you’re not likely to find many here, but it’s certainly a marvel to listen to.

19) I FEEL ENERGY – Dirty Projectors feat. Amber Mark

Where the departure of one of a group’s leads may be devastating for some, it seems to have only energized Dirty Projectors, who returned from a few-years hiatus following co-lead Amber Coffman’s leaving the band in rare form. “I Feel Energy” is the final pre-release single off Lamp Lit Prose, their second album in as many years. There are plenty of great featured guests on this album, but it’s particularly great to hear R&B up-and-comer Amber Mark (whose “All the Work” appeared on the list not too long ago) make herself known. It’s a jubilant, funky song that surprisingly finds a strong groove within Dirty Projectors’ standard chaotic framework.

18) FIRED UP – YONAKA

Ferocious UK rock band YONAKA is not the type of act you’d typically see on this list. They’re not terribly well-known, particularly in the U.S., and they don’t fall into the sort of genre wherein I typically seek out unknown acts. But “Fired Up” is an undeniable hit. Its title perfectly encapsulates the electrifying experience of its barn-burner of a hook. I don’t have all that much to say about it because, again, I don’t know much about the group, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

17) BIG DICK ENERGY – Rico Nasty

One of this month’s trademarks is Big Dick Energy, a phrase popularized to refer to Pete Davidson in late June that sparked a short-lived, far-reaching meme phenomenon across the internet. In a flash, cult darling Maryland rapper Rico Nasty gave us “Big Dick Energy,” a whirlwind two minutes of bars that once again prove she’s not one to be trifled with. If you’re not paying attention to her, you should be, and this fiery lyrical assault is exactly the reason.

16) 1999 WILDFIRE – Brockhampton

Brockhampton’s trio of new singles this month prove, more than anything else, that they have the range and talent to move forward and continue upwards without Ameer Vann, who was kicked out of the hip hop boy band in late May. “1999 WILDFIRE,” in particular, is one of the group’s signature old-soul posse cuts with a certain pop dexterity that expands on the sound developed on their Saturation trilogy. We’ve got a great hook from Kevin, an endearingly corny swords-and-sorcery verse from Joba, and a powerfully-built breakdown towards the end, but the track’s real breakout star is Dom McLennon, who delivers perhaps one of his best verses for the group to date.

15) LEVEL UP – Ciara

Not enough credit has been given to Ciara, the 32-year-old R&B singer with a decade and a half of critically and commercially successful music in her repertoire, continuing to this day as her latest single, “Level Up,” continues to climb the charts. She also released this song’s remix this month, featuring appearances by Fatman Scoop (!!) and Missy Elliott (!!!!!!), but I ultimately decided to tip my proverbial hat towards the original. The inspirational dance track is built on Ciara’s own immutable force of personality, which adds to the song’s status as an undeniable banger.

14) GIRLS NIGHT OUT – Charli XCX

I believe someone on Twitter remarked that “Girls Night Out” sounds like the end-credits music from a direct-to-DVD Barbie movie, and frankly, that about sums it up. The upbeat synth pop track from critical darling Charli XCX has a distinctively nostalgic feeling about it. She sings about going out with her girls with a childlike naiveté, from the stuttering instrumental to the welcoming cheer of “Let’s have a girls’ night out TO-NIGHT!” (followed naturally by a chant of “no boys, no boys”), it hearkens to that childlike mentality that feels sorely missing in a grown, melancholic pop landscape.

13) KUNG FU – YBN Cordae

I’d heard of YBN Cordae before this month, but never really thought to give him a listen. I hadn’t been especially impressed by his YBN clique-mates Nahmir and Almighty Jay, but on a lark, I gave a listen to his new single, “Kung Fu.” The song isn’t exactly a masterstroke, but there were very few (if any) songs this month that I fell in love with to the extent I did “Kung Fu.” It’s a trap earworm with serious hit potential, but it also showcases Cordae’s heaps of potential as a rapper. He’s got flows, he’s got lyrics, he’s got energy, and he’s got personality. I’d look into his other stuff, because again, this is very much some lead single shit, but it gives you a starting reference for all that he has to offer.

12) BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONZ – Denzel Curry feat. GoldLink and Twelve’len

Denzel Curry is a star and his new album TA13OO is a starmaker. Outpacing his own influences, the South Florida MC spreads his wings all over the map on his latest album, showcasing the vulnerability and dexterity that brought him to broad attention over a variety of sounds, including the surprisingly poppy groove of “Black Balloons,” which features GoldLink, a very solid rapper I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about despite my best efforts. It’s got a killer hook, it’s got a message, and it’s got bars. What more could you ask for?

11) 65TH & INGLESIDE – Chance the Rapper

In the midst of swirling talks of a new album and/or seven-track project with Kanye West, Chance the Rapper surprised us with four new singles this month, including the anthemic “65th & Ingleside.” Over angelic keys and a high-pitched Peter CottonTale hook, Chano croons reminiscently about troubled times with his now-fiancee and the thriving life they ultimately led to. Culminating in a barn-burner of a third verse, promising another bold, incomparable new era for Chance’s already-diverse career.

10) POTATO SALAD – A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator

A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator, two of the most long-lasting and influential rappers of their generation, have been teasing a collaborative album for years now, but “POTATO SALAD,” a freestyle over a sample of Monica’s “Knock Knock” from Rocky’s latest AWGE compilation, may be our first real taste of the duo’s record. Both artists are firing on all cylinders on this track, with Tyler dropping video game controller wordplay and touching on his affinity for white twinks while Rocky calls out the lack of talent he sees in up-and-coming rappers while insisting his Chanel bag is not a purse, but a satchel. Basically, this is exactly what I want to hear from a Rocky & Tyler record and I dearly hope it’s coming sooner (as Rocky indicates at the end of the video) rather than later (as Tyler seemed to insist on Twitter).

9) DOESN’T MATTER – Christine and the Queens

“Doesn’t matter” is another mesmerizing feminist electropop track from the veritable queen of that specific kind of song, Christine and the Queens. The gender-bending French pop icon follows up “Girlfriend” with a more subdued song, featuring a chorus that consists of “It doesn’t matter, does it? / If I know any exit / If I believe in God, and if God does exist.” It’s forlorn, heavy, depressive, but its unwavering rhythm (“as unalterable as white stone,” as Chris herself put it) creates a sense of what could almost be described as comfort.

8) SUNDRESS – DRAM

Anyway, here’s a song about seeing a sexy lady. Look, I’m always gonna give it up for DRAM, and you should know this by now. He actually released an EP featuring three new singles this month, and while they’re all great, I found myself leaning towards the cool funk of “Sundress,” a song that seems to carry the influence of Chromeo, with whom DRAM recently collaborated. It’s smooth, it’s catchy, but above all else, it’s fucking fun. DRAM’s a versatile guy, and not all his songs are winners, but if there’s one thing you can always say, it’s that he’s fun.

7) OYAHYTT – The Coup feat. Lakeith Stanfield

“OYAHYTT” is the de facto theme song for Sorry to Bother You, rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s politically-charged satirical opus that also came out this month. Like the film it appears in, “OYAHYTT” is a gonzo whirlwind of boundless energy that showcases the immense talents of both Riley and Lakeith Stanfield. The song’s title stands for “Oh yeah, alright, hell yeah, that’s tight,” the repetition of which makes up the song’s unforgettable chorus, which featured to great effect in the film’s trailers. It’s great to hear The Coup back at it again, particularly aided by Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, but the real standout star of this song is Stanfield, the beloved Get Out and Atlanta actor who also plays the lead role in the film. I’ve never heard Keith rap before, but his verse is one of the more impressive I’ve heard in recent memory, and it makes me eager to check out some of his stuff (don’t be surprised if he shows up again on August’s list).

6) GOD IS A WOMAN – Ariana Grande

It used to be easy to spark controversy as a pop star. The kind of moral panic an artist like Rihanna or Lady Gaga could create at the turn of the decade by, say, wearing a funny outfit seems nowhere to be found today, but look no further, because Ariana has found a new means of arousing bitter debate: just put a contentious ideological stance right in the title of your song. Of course, when you get past the title and certain parts of the video, “God is a woman” is less of a feminist rallying cry and more of a moderately-progressive R&B sex song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially coming from Ariana Grande, who’s like the George Washington Carver of sex songs. My point is, the song kicks ass, and it displays Ariana’s sharp vocal ability with a tone that hearkens back to her early more R&B-centric records and is just generally sick as hell.

5) I’M A HAPPY CAMPER (WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN) – Johnny Rain

R&B singer and Roc Nation signee Johnny Rain channels Prince on the lo-fi “i’m a happy camper (when the sun goes down).” I went back and forth on this song for a while. It burns slow to a near fault, reaching a chorus that can feel disappointing if you haven’t already given into its charms. But if you let its funky ’80s grandeur wash over you, it’ll stick with you for a long time. Rain’s effortless swagger can be mistaken for cockiness, but his devastated vocals and lyrics ring true. He doesn’t think he’s that good, he just is that good.

4) I WAS IN A CULT – teddy 💔

For me personally, one of the most exciting and unexpected new releases came from Teddy Geiger, the former teen heartthrob and frequent Shawn Mendes collaborator who announced her transition in October of last year. If you remember Geiger’s fifteen minutes of success as a teen, chances are you weren’t impressed, but “I Was In a Cult” shows signs of a true force of nature in pop music. Her distorted bluesy pop-rock wears influences from the likes of Jack White and Flaming Lips, but her pen also bears the mark of the pop genius behind so many of Shawn Mendes’ hit singles. Look out for Teddy Geiger, y’all.

3) BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN – The New Respects

My transition from having not even heard of The New Respects to becoming a full-on stan occurred in the span of just two months. Where last month’s “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was a rollicking, Aerosmith-infused blues rock introduction, “Before the Sun Goes Down” is a sunshiney funk track that could easily be song of the summer material. Yes, the Nashville family band has infectious rhythms, but their songcraft and ear for strong hooks, along with their sheer personality, makes them a force to be reckoned with. Just try to get this one out of your head.

2) METAL – Poppy

I’m a well-known massive Poppy fan, but even those who don’t generally take her music seriously are showing love for “Metal,” a bold step forward for the conceptual pop act. The song is a cover of a 1979 track of the same name by new wave pioneer Gary Numan, and it’s about an android who dreams of being human. Now, why would Poppy come out of nowhere with a relatively straight cover of a new wave song from 1979? It’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely a captivating, creepy, surprisingly catchy song that fits perfectly with Poppy’s ever-deepening persona. I know I’ve given unnecessarily high praise to average Poppy singles before, but like, damn.

1) SOUR DIESEL – ZAYN

Now, one artist I can’t be accused of giving too much credit to is Zayn Malik. I’m not sure if I’ve ever placed one of his songs on one of these lists, but I can certainly say that none stick out as especially good in retrospect. Coming out as the first member of One Direction to pursue a solo effort, he fell into a hazy R&B sound that did him no favors and ultimately devolved into him doing whatever Justin Timberlake was doing a decade ago. I knew he had something, but he never held my interest, and I’ve been waiting for the song to get me aboard the Zayn Train. “Sour Diesel” is that song. The grungy funk track, which finds Malik comparing a woman to a particular strand of marijuana, bears the influence of Lenny Kravitz, and it’s the exact kind of slow-building pop-rock track to make potent use of Zayn’s voice and personality. We’ll see what kind of staying power it has, but in this moment, I think this song is incredible, and it’s accomplished the seemingly insurmountable task of getting me excited to hear whatever ZAYN’s coming out with.

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Top 30 Songs of the Month (June 2018) — July 17, 2018

Top 30 Songs of the Month (June 2018)

I think it’s time to accept that 30 is the new normal for these lists. As they go on, I get better at finding music and my tastes develop outward, so even though every month I picture myself bringing it down to 20 or at least 25, it doesn’t seem to happen. Regardless, June is as good a month as any to have a longer list. By this point, it’s largely already become clear which songs are going to dominate the charts for the summer, so some of the more left-field releases start to come out of the woodwork. Keep in mind, this list is generally limited to songs released outside of an album, e.g. as a video or single. This means some of these songs may have been released in some capacity before June, and some songs that were released as album tracks in June (like Teyana Taylor’s “WTP”) won’t be appearing. I’m also pretty under the weather right now, so this won’t be my wordiest list. Anyway, here’s the tunes.

30) OSOM – Jay Rock feat. J. Cole

Kicking off this month’s list is a standout track from Jay Rock’s new album Redemption. The melancholy song features Jay and Cole exchanging verses about paranoia and mounting troubles stemming from their respective success. It’s got the kind of murky, bass-y beat that’s become sort of synonymous with the TDE label, but it also fits snugly into J. Cole’s current KOD era, hearkening to the struggles he discusses on tracks like “Kevin’s Heart” and “ATM.” It’s a somber track, sure, but it creates an unlikely, harmonious melding of the two rappers’ contrasting styles, with Rock’s aggressive bombast paired comfortably with Cole’s relatively reserved contemplation.

29) TILL THE WORLD FALLS – Nile Rodgers and CHIC feat. Mura Masa, Cosha, and Vic Mensa

This was the month of unexpected comebacks, as you’ll see more of later on in this list, but one of the more exciting ones (at least for me) is the return of disco legends Chic, who this month announced their first new album in 26 years and premiered its lead single, “Till the World Falls.” The up-tempo dance track features production and guitar work from British electronic producer Mura Masa, lead vocals from British singer/rapper Cosha (who appeared on Mura Masa’s last album as Bonzai), and a sunny guest verse from Vic Mensa. Is it on the level of Chic’s classic records? Of course not, but it’s indicative of what could be a great dance album.

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Top 30 Songs of the Month (May 2018) — June 15, 2018

Top 30 Songs of the Month (May 2018)

May marks the entryway into summer, which is significant for two key reasons: firstly, a lot of artists put out their final submissions for summer jam, which means a high saturation of music coming out from big names. Second, it’s the beginning of my summer vacation, which means more time to write, both of which create the perfect storm behind this supersized 30-song list. At one point, I seriously contemplated putting 40 songs on this list, but I easily got that down to 35 and, once I got into writing it, felt that it’d be better suited for 30. Still, big things ahead, including a ton of big-name artists making their returns, plus some up-and-comers and acts you may not have heard of. For example:

30) TO THE MAX – Yellow Claw feat. MC Kekel, Bok Nero, Lil Debbie, and MC Gustta

Yellow Claw’s been pumping out solid EDM tracks for the better half of this decade, but I’d go as far as to say this has the most hit potential of anything they’ve released so far. Despite lacking the recognizable names some of their other singles have had (the most recognizable name in the song’s rogues gallery would seem to be White Girl Mob rapper Lil Debbie), it has the kind of instantly infectious beat that’s pushed many a relatively unknown artist into the top ten (think last year’s “Mi Gente”). There’s some other things I admire about this track (the parallels between each verse are fun, and Lil Debbie’s quasi-hook grows on you), but the star of the show is this beat, and it’s one of the EDM duo’s greatest to date.

29) STARLIGHT BRIGADE – TWRP feat. Dan Avidan

Synthwave group TWRP and Game Grump Dan Avidan join forces yet again on “Starlight Brigade,” a sci-fi odyssey that marks new territory for both artists. The strength of Avidan’s work in the past (particularly in his comedy band Ninja Sex Party) has been his lyrical skills, weaving clever storytelling into dense rhyme schemes. Where this is typically used in a comic setting, here he adopts the same style to tell the story of a voyager on an interstellar fleet, aided by some of TWRP’s most powerful-sounding production to date. It channels ’80s rock and techno while also being deceptively catchy.

28) I WISH I MISSED MY EX – Mahalia

English R&B singer Mahalia returns with “I Wish I Missed My Ex,” a soulful slow jam that gleefully dresses down obsessive old flames. It’s a perfect storm of a unifying breakup song, from its smooth piano beat, which builds to a jubilant horn section on the hook, to the chorus of voices joining in on what could have otherwise quickly become a self-centered affair. If you ever feel yourself wanting to text him back, this track is perfectly crafted to bring you to your senses.

27) JERRY (MAYBE WE SHOULD GET MARRIED) – Bethany Cosentino, Nick Lutsko, and @Seinfeld2000

The best way to express this song’s charms is to simply describe it: released on the 20th anniversary of Seinfeld‘s final episode, “Jerry (Maybe We Should Get Married)” features Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast teaming up with Nick Lutsko and Twitter legend @Seinfeld2000 for a ’50s-infused love song comprised entirely of lines spoken by Elaine on Seinfeld. That’s essentially all you need to know about the song. It’s funny, just weird enough to work, and surprisingly replayable, not unlike the sitcom it pays homage to.

26) WIN – Jay Rock

There’s something indescribable about Jay Rock. He makes the kind of music that a lesser artist could make and sound terrible, but his sheer personality, his energy and flow propels him to the level of a force of nature. “WIN” is his first piece of new music in nearly three years, and the gestation period feels much-deserved as Rock employs his charms over an absolutely explosive brassy trap beat. Fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar joins with some ad-libs, but where Kendrick tends to take over any track he’s featured on, here Jay Rock remains the star of the show.

25) FAKE IT – jesse saint john

After cutting his teeth as a songwriter for the likes of Britney Spears, Charli XCX, and Camila Cabello, jesse saint john broke out as a solo artist this year with singles like “MOVE” and now “FAKE IT.” The forlorn synthpop track is downright electrifying, opening with a dreamlike riff and building to a robotic chorus of “fake it until we feel it” that’s hard not to be taken away by. It’s about as much of a journey as you can possibly experience in a scant three minutes, and it solidifies saint john as one to watch.

24) HUMILITY – Gorillaz

Yep, Gorillaz are back. Just a year after releasing their stellar apocalyptic dance record Humanz, Damon Albarn’s vocaloid rockstars return with “Humility,” a groovy summer jam promising another brand-new direction to come with their forthcoming record. You can always count on Gorillaz to at least somewhat deliver, but the extent to which Albarn finds ways to continually reanimate the animated band 20 years into their career is still noteworthy.

23) THIS IS AMERICA – Childish Gambino

“This Is America,” which debuted at the top of the month and reigned at the top of the charts throughout it, has already gone through an enviable life cycle. There was the initial praise, the backlash, the counter-backlash, the meme, the backlash to the meme, and the backlash to said backlash to the meme, which acted both in favor and against the song, which by this point had already begun its descent from the tip of the Hot 100 and had been out for… three weeks. The song’s impressive in many ways, but is perhaps best consumed as a straightforward expression of Donald Glover’s frustrations as a black artist rather than as a revolutionary opus or a simple commercial single.

22) LOW – Lenny Kravitz

One name neither of us was likely expecting to see on this list was Lenny Kravitz, the ’90s sex symbol who last appeared in the public consciousness as a bizarre cameo during Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance. However, he did put out a single this month, and it’s kind of phenomenal. The track’s got some juicy bass, a pretty excellent hook, and some quality vocals from Lenny himself. It’s a funk slow burn with a bit of a vintage sound, but all you really need to know is that it whips major ass.

21) ACCELERATE – Christina Aguilera feat. Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz

This is almost certainly not what people expected to hear from Christina Aguilera’s new single. The veteran pop crooner, known for sex jams and self-empowerment anthems, kicked off the promotion of her forthcoming eighth studio album with “Accelerate,” a labyrinthine ink blot of a hip-hop-infused pop track featuring distorted vocals, a raspy, desperate Ty Dolla $ign, and a methodical guest verse from 2 Chainz. The song can cause musical whiplash on the first go, but it rewards repeat listens as Kanye West’s ever-layered production coheres into an effortlessly cool pop jam that proves Xtina still has plenty of tricks up her baggy suit sleeves.

20) 5 IN THE MORNING – Charli XCX

Now, here’s an artist you would expect to hear a song like “Accelerate” from. Charli XCX has developed a reputation as pop’s chief innovator over these past few years, pioneering an aggressively unbothered electronic sound that’s infested the pop genre even as she continues to take it in new directions. Here, she incorporates trap drums and cadences, encapsulating her don’t-give-a-fuck attitude perfectly while employing her ear for hooks that’s kept her ahead of many of her experimental counterparts. You’ll recall that Charli had two different records on my latest Album of the Year list, and this track proves the hype train shows no signs of slowing.

19) QUARTER PAST MIDNIGHT – Bastille

Five whole years after their global hit single “Pompeii,” Bastille continues to improve on their bombastic indie pop sound, combining Florence + The Machine-esque songcraft with big ’80s hooks and electrifying instrumentals. The first song I can think to compare it to is Lorde’s “Green Light,” with both songs capturing the hectic and uncertain atmosphere of a late-night party with gleeful catharsis. While I’ve stated that “Green Light” isn’t exactly my favorite Lorde song, the energy suits Bastille’s sound particularly well.

18) GENIUS – LSD (Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo)

LSD is the first of two supergroups unveiled featuring Diplo this month (the other, Mark Ronson’s Silk City, may be even more promising, but I wasn’t exactly blown away by their debut single). The group features three of the most unique voices in pop: the quirky, refined R&B of Labrinth, the artful, much-imitated pop of Sia, and the infectious, pioneering EDM of Diplo, and the results are about what you’d expect. “Genius” is a baroque pop marvel, twisting effortlessly between intense strings and big pop hooks over a stomping electro beat. There’s so much to love on this song that I could easily see it becoming an obsession of mine as the year goes on. From the playful lyrics to the “wha-what you say?” sample to the way each singer introduces the other before their respective verses, I love it a little more each time I listen to it.

17) FOUR OUT OF FIVE – Arctic Monkeys

Fans were decidedly split on Arctic Monkeys’ new album Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, but in all honesty, I love this shit. Where the band could’ve easily upcycled their iconic sound, they instead chose to bring together some elements sorely missing from the modern music landscape. Firstly, “Four Out of Five” and the album it represents brought a lounge sound back into popular music, and I didn’t even realize how much I needed it until now. Artists like Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes have been slowly bringing luxury to the world of modern pop, but lounge isn’t synonymous with luxury. Rather, it represents a facade of grandeur, a hollow, inflated cast of importance that makes way for the song and album’s other area of note: humor. There have been funny songs in recent memory, but there are these odd prerequisites that seem to keep popular music from being an outright joke the way “Four Out of Five” is. Not the kind of music we expected, but maybe what we needed.

16) TASTE – Betty Who

I’m hoping that Betty Who’s high-profile appearance on the new Queer Eye theme will finally wake gay Twitter up to one of the best up-and-coming pop singers in the game today. “Taste” is a sparse, sexy electropop jam that’s as catchy as they come, pushing Betty beyond her phenomenal 2017 record The Valley into brand new territory. In addition to this, Betty also put out a solid song with Lemaitre this month called “Rocket Girl,” but seeing as this list already had one techno song about spaceships (“Starlight Brigade”), I gave it to “Taste.”

15) HALLA – Taz Arnold feat. Anderson .Paak and Ty Dolla $ign

If I had told you an artist from “Accelerate” would be showing up again later on in the list, you probably would not have guessed Ty Dolla $ign. “Halla” had an uphill battle towards making it onto this list: a little-publicized solo single from the second-best-known member of alt hip-hop group Sa-Ra, the song only first caught my radar due to its features. Even after hearing the song, I didn’t really care for it (I don’t seem to have been alone in the sentiment). On a first listen, it’s flat, repetitive, and near-incoherent, but further listens uncovered the song’s layers. Its droning sound is deceptively-layered, fluidly welcoming the dulcet tones of Anderson .Paak, Ty Dolla $ign, old-school samples, trap drums, and a guitar solo(?). It feels like an odd midpoint between Gym Class Heroes and, say, Death Grips, but somehow, it works.

14) F ON THE J-O-B – Bad Rabbits

Here’s another funny song! I love comedy music, man. “F on the J-O-B” catches you off-guard: on the first listen, it’s a fun fantasy soul jam about sex at the office with a catchy hook and just-cheesy-enough production. But pay closer attention and you’ll uncover the song’s narrative, which tells the story of a serial sexual harasser who gets reported to HR, then sent to prison, then the shit kicked out of him by a female guard. It’s a funny commentary on the scuzzy nature of so many songs meant to be seen as “sexy,” and it’s also, as I said, a smooth jam with just the right amount of cheese to make it delightful.

13) HUNGER – Florence + The Machine

Remember how I compared Bastille to Florence + The Machine earlier? Turns out, the chamber pop duo is back with their own new single this month, “Hunger,” and it’s about as great as you’d expect. There’s an undeniable magic to Florence + The Machine’s sound; it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can consume you. And this time around, it’s hungry. In their best moments, Florence Welch and Isabella Summers remind the listener of the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Paramore, Kate Bush, and ABBA all wrapped up into one, and this song is just that. It’s another healing, rollicking, exhilarating moment in the band’s already-storied career. And now, John Mayer.

12) NEW LIGHT – John Mayer

After nearly a decade of increasingly-indefensible public behavior, culminating in him dropping an n-word in a Playboy interview (and getting torn a new one by Taylor Swift), John Mayer took a break. After a three-year hiatus, and a few more years of apologizing and humbling himself, he was finally ready to win people over once again. One problem: his music still kinda sucked. That’s the thing with “New Light”: its success has nothing to do with Mayer’s purported new leaf, or the self-deprecating side he expresses within it. It just whips ass. Of course, it’d be shallow to praise “New Light,” a song whose message is literally “If you give me just one night / You’re gonna see me in a new light,” without considering the artist’s history leading up to this point. On the other hand, to celebrate it in said context would be to treat it as if he became a better artist because of his prior transgressions, which may very well be true, but fails to properly reflect the context of his egotistical beginnings and complete reinvention as a result of the backlash to these actions. So, I’ll just leave it at saying the song whips ass.

11) FAST SLOW DISCO – St. Vincent

You already know by now that I was a huge fan of St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, so I had to include the record’s latest single, particularly given that said single happens to be a remix of the song on the album I thought had the most untapped potential, “Slow Disco.” The souped-up version of the song takes on the air of an ’80s electronic track, reminiscent of the likes of New Order and OMD with its pulsing synths, melancholy themes, simplistic melody and punk inklings. It’s a real cathartic experience, elevated by the chorus of voices singing the chorus, which takes on a whole new life over these synths.

10) HIGH HOPES – Panic! at the Disco

On “High Hopes,” Panic! at the Disco seems to have distilled their once-chaotic sound to a science: like Pray for the Wicked‘s previous singles, it’s an undeniably-catchy big band-infused electropop banger with jaw-dropping vocal stunts and loads of religious imagery. Some may be disappointed by this homogeny, which certainly puts the band in a much different zone than they occupied during their early dominance, but like Bruno Mars’ throwback R&B sound, I find myself compelled by their style no matter how many times they replicate it. Maybe Panic! has been coasting on their learned experiences of what makes their theatre kid audience tick, or maybe they’re adopting an especially cohesive sound on this record for a reason, but either way, if it ain’t broke.

9) GOD BREAK DOWN THE DOOR – Nine Inch Nails

Now, if there’s one thing you can’t say about Nine Inch Nails, it’s that their songs sound the same. “God Break Down the Door,” the single from their forthcoming ninth studio album, takes its clearest influence from David Bowie’s Blackstar. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross combine the frenetic, jazzy sound of Bowie’s final record with their own industrial style. Reznor smooths out the harsh instrumentation with an unsettling numbness that sets the song apart from NIN’s illustrious catalogue, signaling a bold new direction in the last of their current trilogy of records.

8) ROSANNA – Weezer / AFRICA – Weezer

Two songs in one! I weighed the idea of considering these songs separately, but at the end of the day, I think one can’t really be mentioned without the other. Both songs came out of a viral internet campaign to get Weezer to cover “Africa” by Toto, a concept with obvious promise. First, the band responded cheekily by releasing a cover of a different ’80s hit by Toto: “Rosanna.” Then, a few days later, they finally did release their cover of “Africa,” and not only was it a success, but it was Weezer’s highest-charting single in over a decade. And with good reason, too. Weezer and “Africa” isn’t a match that initially strikes as worthwhile, but the reason it was in such high demand becomes apparent the minute the song starts. Personally, however, I kinda like the “Rosanna” cover more. The band adds a brass to the song that in some senses improves on the original, where their “Africa” feels a bit watered-down (admittedly, it’s hard to top the original). Still, both songs are reflective of a bizarre time in popular music, as well as the true power of social media over artists and their work.

7) SELF DESTRUCTION – Boogie

I’ve been following Compton rapper Boogie for a while now. In the time since his “The Reach” mixtape first caught my attention way back in 2015, the MC amassed a large fanbase, catching the attention of Eminem (who just recently made him the latest signee to Shady Records). Now, he’s got a new single with “Self Destruction,” which perfectly encapsulates the witty lyrics and sheer personality that brought him to the attention of the likes of Eminem, and proves he just might be the star Shady’s been looking for.

6) GEYSER – Mitski

“Geyser” is a perfect example of why Mitski has come to be known as one of the most respected artists of our time. While many an artist may be tempted to take this assured proclamation of love after years of longing ambivalence and stretch it to its bare limits, Mitski packs twice the emotional depth into a lean two and a half minutes. The euphoria the song builds to is overwhelming, and you may feel like you never want to leave, but the song isn’t a second longer or shorter than it needs to be. Mitski crafts a song like a fine blade, and “Geyser” is one of her most impressive works to date.

5) BLOOM – Troye Sivan

Now having grown into the role of pop superstar, Troye Sivan returns with “Bloom,” his prettiest, raunchiest, and possibly best song so far. Like “My My My!,” the song dips its toe into ’80s pop nostalgia, but exists squarely on Troye’s own terms, as evidenced by the cheeky #BopsBoutBottoming hashtag he started immediately after its release. Once the taboo novelty of a pop song about bottoming wears off, it becomes much more novel as a sex song of uncharacteristic sweetness, conjoining love and sex in a way pop music seems to have forgotten in recent years. “My My My!” put Troye on a brand new level, and “Bloom” proves his ascension has yet to slow down.

4) DUPPY FREESTYLE – Drake / THE STORY OF ADIDON – Pusha T

Don’t worry, this is the last time I’m putting more than one song in an entry. It may seem like a cop-out to place both of these songs on the same list, let alone in the same entry, but the fact is I’ve never been one for picking sides. This month gave us a feud between Pusha T and Drake, and as much as commentators can debate over who went too far or who had the better bars, the fact is that we were all winners. Drake awoke his inner dragon to show his lyrical teeth after Pusha provoked him on DAYTONA (only for him to retreat into mediocrity with “I’m Upset” less than a week later), and Pusha responded in kind with the most vicious diss track to come out in years. J. Prince and Kanye apparently brought the beef to a halt (I don’t trust that it’s actually over), leaving us with these two songs, each monumental in their own time, now standing as a hallmark of what could have been (or perhaps was) the best rap beef of the decade.

3) CHERUBIM – serpentwithfeet

The elevator pitch for serpentwithfeet is “Björk meets Frank Ocean (with a dash of Sufjan Stevens),” and if that’s not enough to get you interested, give “cherubim” a listen. The song is actually another #BopBoutBottoming, as it finds the Baltimore crooner professing a religious devotion to the man he loves. I’ve been following serpentwithfeet for a while, waiting for the perfect storm of all his charms to come together, and I think “cherubim” might be the one. It combines experimental vocals and electronic instrumentation, intensely emotional and double entendre-laden lyrics, and a surprisingly infectious hook. The singer put out his debut album “soil” this month, and rest assured, you’ll hear me talking about it at some point in the near future, but for now, check out “cherubim,” a damn-near perfect song.

2) GIRLFRIEND – Christine and the Queens feat. Dâm-Funk

Christine and the Queens, the pansexual pop star who’s taken France by storm and has already been expanding her reach around the globe, returns with her new bilingual single “Girlfriend.” “Girlfriend” is only the name of the English version of the song (the French version is “Damn, dis-moi”), but while both versions have their charms, it’s the heavily-accented, barely-discernible English that really pushes this one over the line for me. Chris’ tempered vocals lend the song an air of headstrong confidence, which is bolstered by the smooth ’80s-infused funk/pop beat courtesy of Stones Throw’s Dâm-Funk. When you combine that with lyrics like “Same old sadness in small lumps in my jaw / For lusting after is the usual freak show / May your girl come, birdie die under this spur / F-f-f-fingers angrily sunk on the jugular,” what’s not to love?

1) BUBBLIN’ – Anderson .Paak

I kinda new this song would top the list as soon as it came out. Sure, I had moments of contemplation as I was filing down the shortlist, but there was really no song this month that I fell as quickly or as hard for as I did “Bubblin’.” This blistering display of bars reflects the Dr. Dre protege’s latest push for domination: he may be known as a great singer, but never let that distract from the fact that the dude can rap his ass off. With a frenetic orchestral beat and booming bass, it’s one of the most infectious, inspired displays of sheer charisma to come out this year.

Top 25 Songs of the Month (April 2018) — May 15, 2018

Top 25 Songs of the Month (April 2018)

April tends to be an interesting month for music. It’s when we start to see big names throw their “song of the summer” contender into the ring (although the winner usually comes out fairly early in the game), but also a time when other acts gearing for summer and fall releases begin their album rollout. By the same token, this was one of the more interesting songs of the month lists I’ve had to put together. Lots of experimental stuff, genres that rarely make an appearance, and an unusually competitive field, which is why this month once again features 25 songs. For those of you who are new to this, these lists consist of songs that were released separate from an album in the given month, with rare exceptions for particularly stellar album cuts (I could theoretically change that, but I feel like it’d be too much to keep track of). This means that a song that was released on an album months if not years before could still be eligible if it was recently released as a single or video, but some songs that were technically released this month would be ineligible since they were only released as part of an album. It’s complicated, but it works. Anyway, let’s kick things off.

25) CONTROLLER – Channel Tres

“Controller” is the debut single by Channel Tres, an up-and-coming producer/rapper and the latest signee to indie label Godmode Music (home to indie darlings Yaeji and Shamir).  And let me just say, it’s pretty impressive for a first single. It’s a cool, confident slow-burn of a house track that’s instantly engrossing and builds on its deceptively simplistic base to make for a purely entertaining jam. Tres projects an infectious confidence without ever taking himself too seriously for his own good, building to an extremely enjoyable “throw some sub in that bitch” call-and-resposne portion, my personal favorite moment in the song. It’s eclectic, but it really serves as an introduction to the world of Channel Tres, and it’s definitely got me invested in where he goes from here.

24) FAMILIAR – Liam Payne feat. J. Balvin

Suffice to say, Liam Payne and J. Balvin aren’t quite “indie darlings.” While they’re considered fresh due to their recent rise to U.S. solo success, the two have been enjoying platinum hits for most of this decade, and while both have thus far failed to recreate the mainstream U.S. success of their big singles last year, “Familiar” may be both of their best efforts yet. In an odd way, Payne has evolved into an artist fairly reminiscent of his one-time boy band competition, The Wanted. Like their big hit “Glad You Came,” “Familiar” is a Latin-infused dance-pop track featuring admirable-if-goofy attempts at lyrical dexterity. And honestly? I’m here for it.

23) NIGHT TIME – Superorganism

You know I’m always gonna save a spot for Superorganism. Fresh off their insane Tiny Desk Concert, the psych pop band has put out another single from their stellar self-titled debut album. “Night Time” is one of the album’s dancier tracks, incorporating a ’90s-ish sound you may or may not find in some bigger pop singles later on this list, but with their signature dreamy aesthetics, trippy vocals, and clever instrumental tricks (this one incorporates the sounds of crickets chirping). Delicate on every level, “Night Time” is another indicator of what I’ve been saying for almost a year now: Superorganism is the future.

22) WHAT’S IT LIKE NOW – Mikky Ekko

If you know Mikky Ekko from anything, it’s probably his guest appearance on Rihanna’s lauded 2013 single “Stay.” As much as I’d like to envision him as an artist Rihanna conjured out of need for a male voice, the fact is that ol’ Mikky is a versatile, unique artist with a sprawling and impressive catalogue that’s consistently been on my radar for about a year and a half. His latest, “What’s It Like Now,” is brash yet oddly familiar, an indie pop-rock track seemingly destined for a long career in car commercials and odd appearances (this, unfortunately, is the destiny of every good indie rock song in 2018). Like I said, I’ve been digging Mikky Ekko’s output for a while now, but his songs usually fade from memory by the end of the month, and this one’s still managed to stick around.

21) LIGHT FLEX – Tone Stith feat. 2 Chainz

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this Uncle Drew movie. I’ve seen a lot of negative feedback to the trailers, and I definitely see where they’re coming from: boasting a cast of mostly basketball players and a premise lifted from a six-year-old Pepsi commercial, it doesn’t exactly scream “Oscar bait,” but something about it still grabs my interest. Part of it may be the film’s killer soundtrack, with singles including last month’s “Cocky” with A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage, and Gucci Mane, as well as “Light Flex.” The song, which features up-and-coming R&B songster Tone Stith and perennial favorite 2 Chainz, has an undeniable bounce to it, taking notes from ’90s new jack swing and swaggering hooks that build towards yet another guest-verse masterstroke by 2 Chainz, who remains one of the most consistently-impressive rappers working today.

20) BATSHIT – Sofi Tukker

Like Mikky Ekko, Sofi Tukker is another artist with an excessive amount of K’s in their name who I’ve been meaning to put on one of these lists for a while. I went back and forth on “Batshit” for a while. The meandering “batshit, baaaatshit, baaatshit” of the chorus doesn’t really do it for me, but I kept finding myself coming back to the song’s opening. You may have already heard it in a commercial: “Oh / You’re bad enough to me / Bad enough that we / Always have something to get over.” It’s simple, but it works, and I’ve always admired Sofi Tukker’s ability to take a simple, goofy idea and run with it.

19) RATS – Ghost

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t really listen to metal. It’s just not an aesthetic that appeals to me; I can get into it, but I’d almost unilaterally rather listen to something else. There are exceptions, of course. Not long ago, I talked about Zeal & Ardor, an avant garde band who combines metal with spirituals and vintage rock sounds to profound effect. Another band I like is Ghost, which is more decidedly in the standard realm of heavy metal. To understand what appeals to me about this group, look no further than “Rats.” See, Ghost is a band that understands and plays up the inherent ridiculousness of metal as a genre, and if there’s one thing that transcends genre preferences for me, it’s earnestly goofy shit.

18) FADED AWAY – Sweater Beats feat. Icona Pop

Now for something completely different, Icona Pop! You may remember the Swedish electropop duo from their 2013 global smash hit “I Love It.” Their music since then has been roughly in the same vein, and generally pretty spectacular at it. Their latest, “Faded Away” with Sweater Beats (an EDM producer I know absolutely nothing about), is a solid dance track full of bleeps, bloops, and soaring vocals. In spite of its wacky production, it’s a fairly straightforward pop song, but that’s a realm where you can always count on Icona Pop to deliver.

17) 4 LEAF CLOVER – Ravyn Lenae feat. Steve Lacy

Chicago R&B singer Ravyn Lenae, who’s been on my radar for some time now and has already been compared to everyone from Erykah Badu to SZA, just put out a new EP entirely produced by The Internet’s Steve Lacy (more on The Internet in a bit wink wink). This single off that record, “4 Leaf Clover,” is a solid indicator of why Lenae gets compared to all the great R&B singers of then and now: her blend of charisma, innate wisdom, and experimentation makes her immediately exciting, and her engrossing voice carries the song throughout. I hear all the comparisons people make, but I’d say the vibes I’m getting the most off this track remind me of Santigold more so than anyone else. And that’s a compliment.

16) QUIZ – CupcakKe

“Quiz” is a CupcakKe song not dissimilar from any other, but if we’re being honest, CupcakKe’s baseline performance is enough to qualify her for the list. That’s because even the most basic track from the cult favorite MC features bonkers instrumentals, rapid-fire wordplay, and completely shameless, irresistible showcases of her unique, hilarious, hypersexual style. A beat as boisterous and blistering as this would be daunting to your average rapper, but CupcakKe’s sheer force of personality could shine through on any track.

15) MUST’VE BEEN – Chromeo feat. DRAM

Combine the surefire, all-nonsense funk of Chromeo with the dulcet tones of DRAM, an artist who’s quickly becoming one of my favorites, and what do you get? Hopefully, a potential sleeper candidate for song of the summer. That’s right, I said it. The idea of Chromeo scoring a hit single is a bit fantastical, particularly given the fact that all their songs are on roughly the same level of boppiness, but on some level I still hold out hope that a collaboration with DRAM and a flashy Fallon performance will be enough to propel this song onto the charts, at least for a brief moment. But even if it doesn’t land on the radio (and once again, it probably won’t), you’ll still be likely to find me jamming out to it all summer long.

14) HALF LOVE – Elohim

Elohim, a pop singer known for appearing in an animal mask until recently and being named after God, released her self-titled debut album at the end of this month. The album definitely deserves more attention, but today we’re talking about its lead single, “Half Love.” The song combines the hard-hitting synth sound of CHVRCHES (a band who came within an inch of appearing on this list themselves) with Elohim’s own confident style, with a forceful, pulse-pounding bridge leading up to the song’s slick, sexy pop hook.  It’s like every element of a great ’10s pop song smashed together into one package.

13) PARK LIFE FOREVER – Laura Jane Grace

Transgender punk icon Laura Jane Grace has a new song out, but if you’re expecting the angsty thrash of her most famous works, you’ve come to the wrong place. Grace recorded the short, sweet folk-pop track “Park Life Forever” with the help of her eight-year-old daughter Evelyn, and in case you’re curious, it’s about going to the park. I’ve thrown out some aphorisms about punk artists inevitably transitioning into folk as they grow older, and if this is the direction Against Me! is moving towards 20+ years into their career, I’m decidedly here for it.

12) LOVE SONG – Zak Abel

I’m not going to pretend I’d heard of Zak Abel before this song, or that I think this song’s gonna make him a household name. There’s not really much to say about “Love Song,” other than that it’s epic and simplistic all at once, a perfectly-packaged piece of pop that can be applied to just about any situation. I suppose the best way to talk about is to speak on what it reminds me of. It’s orchestral arrangements and background vocals instantly recalled Gnarls Barkley for me, which is a sound we rarely hear these days. Of course, the “song titled ‘Love Song’ where the hook is about how it’s not a love song” shtick can be credited to Sara Bareilles, though the two songs have little in common outside of that. With its dramatic build, hard-hitting synth bass, and vocal stylings, I’d also say it kind of reminds me of “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande and the Weeknd, which is a phenomenal song that we don’t talk about enough. Not the most original thing in the world, but it wears its influences on its sleeve, and its influences are pretty great.

11) ONE KISS – Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa

Since I’ve had a lot to say about the song of the summer lately, let the record reflect that I’m predicting this song is gonna do big things. The ’90s-inspired dance sound has been bubbling under the surface of pop for a while now and this track (in addition to some other songs I’ll get to in a bit) is finally bringing it into vogue full-force. Calvin Harris has spent the past year and a half proving he’s one of the best pop producers doing it today, and “One Kiss” brings him into a new realm that could find him topping the charts once again, even in an era where pop’s ubiquity has noticeably dwindled. It’s got a solid hook, a nice instrumental drop, two artists who have been in “next big thing” territory for the last year and a half, and it’s exactly weird enough to dominate over the homogenized sounds of Zedd and Post Malone.

10) FISTS OF FURY – Kamasi Washington

Needless to say, Kamasi Washington’s latest ten-minute jazz opus “Fists of Fury” is somewhat less likely to top the charts. However, if there are any superstars in the world of modern jazz, Washington is certainly up there. He’s been a critical and commercial hit since his 2015 label debut, The Epic. His latest track, “Fists of Fury,” certainly lives up to its name: the frenetic track features choral vocals, driving drums, and Washington absolutely wailing ass on the sax. What more could you want?

9) ROLL! (BURBANK FUNK) – The Internet

After three years on hiatus while its members pursued solo work (like Steve Lacy, from earlier!), The Internet has finally returned with their new single, “Roll!” The latest song from the band (which began life as an offshoot of Odd Future) proves they didn’t lose anything in their brief departure: featuring the ever-mesmerizing vocals of Lacy and Syd, the track is really driven by Patrick Paige II’s funk bass licks, which build a celebratory vibe into the band’s signature dreamy neo-soul sound. It’s the perfect song for setting the mood at a chill summer get-together, and it’s indicative of exciting things to come from The Internet.

8) THE WAVE – LION BABE feat. Leikeli47

You may remember rapper Leikeli47 from her stellar 2017 album “Wash & Set,” which I talked about on last year’s album-of-the-year list. Now, she joins buzzing R&B duo LION BABE for another chill summer funk track, featuring an irresistible groove, a deceptively infectious hook, and an expectedly-great verse from Leikeli. The song’s cool vintage vibes, driven by phenomenal bass work from Lucas Goodman, is what really sells it for me, but all the stars are aligned to make this a great jam.

7) PYNK – Janelle Monae feat. Grimes

It feels like “PYNK” has already been out for way longer than a month, which should serve as an indication of how instantly iconic the song and video are. So much has happened in the lives of Janelle Monae and Grimes (Grimes especially) since this song came out that it almost feels nostalgic to go back and remember the bold de-gentrification of “pussy power” rhetoric that started it all. Even ignoring the song’s politics (which are excellent), it’s a pretty great step forward for Janelle, integrating her funky sound with the kooky indie sound of Grimes to create a refreshing, exciting, and above-all fun moment in pop culture.

6) A$AP FOREVER – A$AP Rocky feat. Moby

A$AP Rocky, one of my favorite rappers, is finally gearing up for the release of his new album Testing, and after releasing a few pieces that could liberally be described as “songs,” we finally have the album’s first true single: “A$AP Forever,” which combines Rocky’s experimental streak with his penchant for straight bars. It’s a pretty quintessential Rocky track, featuring the rapper spitting over stringy New York boom-bap that then segues into a Moby sample that’s… kind of touching? Like I said, I was far from impressed from the short snippets he released before this, but this song reminded me why I love the guy.

5) NO TEARS LEFT TO CRY – Ariana Grande

After two years of dormancy following her sensational 2016 record Dangerous Woman, reigning queen of pop Ariana Grande announced her return this month with “No Tears Left to Cry.” When the clock struck midnight, I opened up Apple Music, gave it a listen, and I didn’t like it. From what I’ve heard, a lot of people didn’t like the song at first. Like Dangerous Woman‘s lead single of the same name, it’s a little too weird to be palatable as a pop single upon first listen. But like “Dangerous Woman,” I quickly took a liking to the track, and I’m now holding out hope that it reigns as song of the summer (although if “Into You” couldn’t be song of the summer, I don’t know what could). It’s got those same ’90s dance drums that a few of the other songs I’ve talked about have; I really think this is the direction pop is moving in, and after two years of sluggish R&B and Chainsmokers chords, I’m here for it.

4) LIKE ME – Bobby Sessions

Here in the month of May, folks are going nuts over Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” a stark revelation about the struggles black people face, particularly as artist, in the U.S. I like that song a lot, but if you’re looking for some racial commentary that gets right to the point, I recommend “Like Me.” Bobby Sessions is an up-and-coming Dallas rapper and, following his recent signing to Def Jam, he’s released “Like Me,” a compelling and jarring condemnation tracing the black struggle in modern-day America back to its roots in the transatlantic slave trade. Sessions’ take-no-prisoners lyricism elevates the song to a higher level in an era where a fresh take on racial injustice is hard to come by. Thought-provoking message aside, “Like Me” is reflective of Bobby’s raw energy and skills as an MC, setting him ahead of the pack in one fell swoop.

3) I NEED A WOMAN TO LOVE – Kesha

For MGM Resorts’ Universal Love EP, which featured artists ranging from Bob Dylan to St. Vincent performing gender-flipped covers of classic love songs, Kesha contributed her own take on Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love.” The track’s crunchy Southern rock sound isn’t entirely foreign to Kesha, but it’s certainly a realm we don’t often get to see her in, and one she handles with the same finesse and boundless confidence she always brings to the table. Kesha also officiated a same-sex wedding for the song’s video, so… that’s pretty cool.

2) NICE FOR WHAT – Drake

Here’s something you really don’t see everyday: a female empowerment anthem by Drake. Also like, a really good song by Drake. I’m not saying the Canadian megastar doesn’t make good music, but he’s certainly in rare form on “Nice for What.” The bounce-infused track samples Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” (more ’90s drums!) and features notable moments like a surprise interlude from Big Freedia(!) and the best hook Drake’s put together in at least half a decade. Even when I like Drake songs (which I do semi-regularly), it’s very rare that I fall in love with one as quickly as I’ve become enamored with “Nice for What.” It’s a shame that “God’s Plan” has been hogging all the radio play, because this is another perfectly-good summer jam waiting in the wings. By the way, if you’re looking for my take on “God’s Plan,” here it is: it sucks. So, what could be better than “Nice for What”?

You don’t want to know.

1) LIFT YOURSELF – Kanye West

I’m sorry. This isn’t a joke. It’s not ironic. It’s not even an excuse to give my hot takes on Kanye’s latest media fiasco. I, completely genuinely, can’t get enough of “Lift Yourself” by Kanye West. I’m sure you all know the story by now. Kanye professed his love for Donald Trump, called slavery a “choice,” and generally did the most to get the people against him. And then, promising the answers to everyone’s questions (particularly Ebro’s), he released “Lift Yourself.” The song is just an instrumental for the first minute and a half of its two-and-a-half minutes, and it’s an absolutely immaculate instrumental at that, but then, out of thin air, Kanye appears, promising an onslaught of next-level bars. And then it happens. Kanye’s– I guess you could call it scatting?– is obviously meant to be taken as a joke, but is it wrong of me to say I kind of dig it? It’s just so unexpected, and Kanye’s stonefaced delivery makes it laugh-out-loud funny every time. I know I shouldn’t like it, but I really do, and that’s something we’re just gonna have to deal with.

Top 25 Songs of the Month (March 2018) — April 13, 2018

Top 25 Songs of the Month (March 2018)

That’s right, it’s a supersized Songs of the Month this month. On the one hand, it’s a little late. On the other, you’re getting 1.25x as many tunes, so I’d say it evens out. Either way, I had a bit of trouble narrowing this one down. Maybe I’ve lost my touch in these strenuous end-of-the-semester times. In the eleventh hour I was able to narrow it down from 30 to 25, taking out the songs I didn’t have all that much to say about, but the results are a bit male-dominated. Still, there’s plenty of rockin’ tunes to add to your playlist or whatever, so let’s kick it.

25) GRAVEDIGGER’S CHANT – Zeal & Ardor

Zeal & Ardor is an avant-garde metal project that combines the sounds of black metal and Negro spirituals, creating some of the most intriguing, exciting metal out on the market today. As someone who’s not really a metal person, I love Zeal & Ardor. Their new single “Gravedigger’s Chant” is a deceptively simple, powerful single that will leave you feeling some type of way whether you like it or not. It’s just kind of a beautiful piece of music.

24) OVER MY HEAD – Echosmith

Get ready to have this one stuck in your head for a few weeks. You may know Echosmith from their bizarrely-popular “Pumped Up Kicks” clone, 2014’s “Cool Kids.” What you may not know is that they’re a really solid indie pop band with a new album on the way and this new single, “Over My Head,” which may be the catchiest song they’ve ever released. Critics have called the song an emblem of the band’s maturing, and it certainly feels significantly more grown-up than “Cool Kids.” I hadn’t been tuned into Echosmith much before now, but this track has me looking forward to that forthcoming album.

23) ONCE IN MY LIFE – The Decemberists

Here’s a baroque, deceptively-simple track off the Decemberists’ new record I’ll Be Your Girl. In terms of content, “Could just something go right for once in my life?” is pretty much the only lyric in the song. The song’s complexity is in its instrumentation, which transitions beautifully from jangly tambourine to stadium rock synth in exquisite form. It conveys the lyrics’ sense of inescapable despair in a way that’s oddly engaging and certainly powerful.

22) MY NAME IS MARS – Capital Cities

Capital Cities had their one-hit wonder moment in 2013 with “Safe and Sound,” an infectious, simple dance-pop number with a killer horn section. Since then, they’ve been putting out ridiculous, great pop music not unlike “Safe and Sound,” though more experimental in terms of subject matter. Their latest is a funky space-age tune about Mars, the Roman god of war. It’s goofy, it’s catchy, and it’s great to dance to. If you ever wanted a banger about Roman mythology, today’s your lucky day.

21) MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY – Rivers Cuomo

Here’s another one to get stuck in your head for an uncomfortably long time. Rivers Cuomo, the idiosyncratic lead singer of Weezer, flexes his solo muscles with “Medicine for Melancholy,” an electrifying power pop anthem named after a Barry Jenkins movie. The handclaps, the epic drumline over the infectious “dum dee-dee-dee-dee” hook, everything’s fine-tuned to be mystifying.

20) PREACHER MAN – The Driver Era

Is there anything Ross Lynch can’t do? After delivering one of the most magnetic performances of 2017 as a young Jeffrey Dahmer in the film My Friend Dahmer, the former Disney star joined brother Rocky for an electric new single, “Preacher Man.” “Preacher Man” feels like the type of song a long-underground indie rock band would release that would earn them a surprising run on the Hot 100, and it’s the Driver Era’s first single. If it turns out to be a summer hit, which is far from impossible given it’s infectious pop hook and Southern gospel touches, maybe more people would recognize the all-around tour de force that is Austin from Disney’s Austin and Ally.

19) BOMB THROWN – CZARFACE & MF Doom

In case you missed it last month, legendary rapper MF Doom joined forces with Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck and underground rapper-producer duo 7L & Esoteric for the album Czarface Meets Metal Face, Doom’s first album since his 2014 collaboration with Bishop Nehru. The album is chock-full of quality old-school hip hop, with Esoteric dropping legendary one-liners, Deck spitting intricate bars, and Doom providing that unmistakable concoction of experimental flows, goofy off-the-wall humor, and stoic, accented delivery that makes him one of the best to ever do it. “Bomb Thrown” is the album’s only single thus far, and a perfect example of the record’s charms.

18) TIL IT’S OVER – Anderson .Paak

Dr. Dre signee and contender for “coolest person alive” Anderson .Paak returned this month with “Til It’s Over,” a dreamy electro-soul track that made its debut in an incredible Apple commercial (above) directed by Spike Jonze and starring FKA twigs. The commercial makes three things clear: 1) Spike Jonze needs to direct a musical. 2) FKA twigs is delightful and should definitely be the biggest star in the world. 3) Anderson .Paak isn’t resting on his Malibu laurels, moving forward as one of the most exciting voices in music today.

17) BETTER WITH YOU – Jesse McCartney

Mid-’00s teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney is back and… well, pretty much the same. “Better With You” is a bit of an updated version of McCartney’s sound, with a modern electropop drop and mandatory toothless lyric about today’s political climate, but if you were a fan of the honest, soulful pop style of his heyday, as I was, you’ll probably appreciate this song too. It’s a simple, earnest love song that stands out in an era where every other song on the radio is by a disgruntled former Disney star trying to branch out. We do live in tumultuous times, as the song is quick to point out, but Jesse McCartney is still Jesse McCartney, so maybe some things are still sacred.

16) DONE FOR ME – Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani

With a single song (“Attention”), Charlie Puth transformed from dweeby altar boy to Shawn Mendes’ funky bad-boy counterpart. Puth’s latest, “Done for Me,” carries a familiar groove for those who enjoyed his last quasi-hit, “How Long,” but incorporates a cool vintage R&B sound that adds yet another layer to Charlie’s long-running transition into legitimately cool pop artist. It also features a great guest appearance by Kehlani (another “coolest person alive” contender), whose chemistry with Puth is surprisingly effective. For comparison, he was working with Meghan Trainor on his last album.

15) BOBLO BOAT – Royce da 5’9″ feat. J. Cole

Royce da 5’9″ and J. Cole have a lot in common. First of all, they both have really annoying fans, who insist they’re respectively the best to ever do it and demand you bring them into every hip hop conversation. Second, they’re both actually really good. On this song, over a beat chill enough to put you to sleep, the two reminisce about their most developmental ages, and the fond memories they have of their teen years in spite of their less desirable elements, using Bob-Lo Island as a metaphor for something flawed, grimy, misshapen, but still remembered fondly. Pretty neat, in my opinion.

14) FALLING INTO ME – Let’s Eat Grandma

I was introduced to Let’s Eat Grandma last month when they made the previous list with “Hot Pink,” an experimental pop banger bolstered by soul-shaking production from SOPHIE. This song doesn’t feature SOPHIE’s charms, but it proves my appreciation for the pop group goes deeper than their producer. It experiments with the beats and rhythms of pop, creating an expansive sound that feels retro yet completely new. It’s got some pretty powerful lyrics, too, and affectingly unique vocals by the band’s two members. If there’s such a thing as prog pop, this is it.

13) TONGUE – MNEK

English dance-pop singer MNEK got his start as a songwriter, working with the likes of Little Mix, Kylie Minogue, and Madonna. If you’ve heard one of his songs, it’s probably Beyonce’s “Hold Up” (though to be fair, that song’s credited songwriters also include Diplo, Ezra Koenig, and Father John Misty). Or maybe you know “Never Forget You,” the song he did with Zara Larsson that was met with surprising international success in 2015. Anyway, he’s an unapologetically gay pop artist with a great new song called “Tongue” and you should definitely check it out, especially since it’s an absolute banger. A lot of queer artists came out with new music this month, including Keiynan Lonsdale, Alyson Stoner, and Hayley Kiyoko, but MNEK pushed ahead of them all to make the list (and all those songs are solid, for the record).

12) VIZINE – Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne has been in his best form in at least a decade lately, having just dropped Dedication 6 and Dedication 6: Reloaded, two of the best mixtapes of his career, in the span of a single month. Now, he’s back with “Vizine,” a hard-hitting track that’s got killer bars, solid flows, and a surprising amount of introspection. It’s also got plenty of classic Wayne quotables, like “No one man should have all that power if he can’t afford to pay the light bill,” or “Bedroom got revolving doors / Bitches in and out smiling more / Than children smiling at a carnival.” If you find yourself wondering why the song is called “Vizine,” don’t worry. It all comes together in the end.

11) WHAT KIND OF LOVE – TOMI

This is some real ’80s Belinda Carlisle shit right here. TOMI is an up-and-coming artist with a sound that recalls a rock-‘n’-roll Marina and the Diamonds. Her new single, “What Kind of Love,” brings that energy full-force. You will come out of this song feeling like you can do anything and hating men. Sometimes, that’s just what you need.

10) BE CAREFUL – Cardi B

After a handful of successful trap singles, Cardi B shows her pop side on “Be Careful,” the third single off her instant-hit debut album Invasion of Privacy. The song is magnetic from its opening moments, featuring a simplistic beat reminiscent of “Fake Love” Drake and some devastating lyrics about Cardi’s feelings towards a cheating fiancee. She’s been adamant that the song isn’t about Offset, but like, come on. It’s real, it’s enjoyable, it’s perhaps Cardi’s wittiest song to date, and it’s just a taste of what her album has to offer.

9) RAINING GLITTER – Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue has long since proven to be perhaps the most dynamic, resilient voices in pop music. In over 30 years of stardom, she’s channeled everyone from Kraftwerk to ABBA, and now she’s back with “Raining Glitter,” the latest single off her recently-released country album Golden. Despite her legendary longevity, Kylie sounds as fresh as ever, incorporating reminiscent country guitars into her classic Australian dance-pop sound to prove that one of the greatest pop singers in history isn’t done just yet.

8) FEEL IT STILL (“WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC REMIX) – Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” Yankovic

I don’t normally put remixes on this list, particularly not for songs as popular and long-lived as “Feel It Still,” but when the legendary Weird Al is involved, I have to make an exception. This isn’t a parody. It’s not an especially silly revamp. It’s just a fairly earnest polka remix of a monster hit song, and that’s something special in and of itself. It helps that Al’s nimble hands are on the wheel, making the song at times even more captivating than the wildly successful original. When he builds up that “Is it coming back?” bridge, you’ll believe a polka song can make its way onto your playlist in the year of our lord 2018.

7) OKRA – Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator dropped a loosie out of nowhere this month with “OKRA,” a blistering two-and-a-half minutes of some of the finest lyrical content we’ve heard from him to date. The bars are a mile-a-minute, the beat serves the bass on a silver platter, and if you were hoping to hear a version of Tyler that carried his Flower Boy emotional progression over a beat reminiscent of his older days, “OKRA”‘s got you covered.

6) HIGH HORSE – Kacey Musgraves

Between polka, metal, and country, this might be the most off-the-wall of these lists I’ve put out to date. To be fair, Kylie Minogue’s song is more country than this one, even though Kacey Musgraves is certifiably a country artist (and one of the best doing it right now at that). “High Horse” is a song not easily categorized by genre, but the best I could do is to say it’s a vintage disco track with country sensibilities. Its success in these disparate fields, as well as as a pop anthem, potential club banger, and epic takedown of some douchebag, prove just how proficient at her craft Musgraves is already. If she keeps it up, she could easily be a legend in a few more years. If you want proof she’s all that, listen to this and then her other single this month, “Slow Burn.”

5) SAY AMEN (SATURDAY NIGHT) – Panic! at the Disco

In the mid-’00s, Panic! at the Disco worked to elevate “emo” from whiny white boys to theatrical, weird, off-the-wall anthems. Since then, they’ve lost all but one member, branched their sound out every which way, and now we have “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” a song that’s got everything we’ve come to love about the now-one-man band. It features an electrically theatrical electro-pop-rock beat, an absolutely irresistible hook, some surprisingly poignant lyrics about a man’s grapples with the religion he was raised under, and one of Brendon Urie’s best vocal performances to date (which is really saying something). If you’re a fan of Panic!, this track’s another one for the books.

4) GO TO TOWN – Doja Cat

Doja Cat is an up-and-coming rapper and singer who embodies brazen sexuality with an infectious voice. “Go to Town” is a song about her vagina, but more importantly, it’s a show of sheer personality, with the rapper exhibiting her unique sound, lyrical prowess, and ear for big hooks over an absolutely irresistible beat. I don’t want to say she’s the next big thing, but there’s an undeniable je ne sais quoi to this song, a manic energy that proves she has a voice worth hearing in the game.

3) OVER AND OVER AND OVER – Jack White

20 years into his career, Jack White remains one of the most volatile, exciting voices in rock music today. His new album Boarding House Reach may be one of the best of 2018 so far, and “Over and Over and Over” has all the baroque, unpredictable ridiculousness we’ve come to expect from him. In spite of its gonzo lyrics, bizarre background vocals, and lightning instrumentation, there’s an odd pop synergy to this track. White has distilled his music down to a certain chaos pattern: you can feel the symmetry, but it’s too complex to pick apart. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve been getting into Jack White lately.

2) LOST IN JAPAN – Shawn Mendes

Here’s a real Cinderella story. Who would’ve suspected that a guy like Shawn Mendes would one day be making lavish R&B and topping my Songs of the Month lists? Certainly not I. Shawn Mendes has always had enough personality to carry a career. The issue for him has been his music taking the form of Bieber-lite acoustic guitar shlock for the first couple years there. Now that he’s expanded his sound, it’s clear why he got so famous to begin with. “Lost in Japan” is an enviably lush song, a lounge track with funk extensions about flying to Japan to see his loved one. “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” got me aboard the Shawn Mendes train. “Lost in Japan” made me a fan.

1) GET THE FUCK OFF MY DICK – Vince Staples

Topping the list is a song that actually came out fairly early in the month. In the first week of March, Vince Staples launched the #GTFOMD campaign, a GoFundMe page announcing that he’d completely retire from music and celebrity for the price of $2 million. At the end of the campaign, the money having not been raised, Staples dropped “Get the Fuck Off My Dick.” In my opinion, it’s actually one of the stronger singles Vince has released so far. It takes his brazen attitude to new heights with some of his wittiest lyrics to date, a killer beat, and easily his best hook. This song was launched via viral marketing campaign, but it could just as easily have led to the “Try not to absent-mindedly say ‘get the fuck off my dick’ in public after getting this song stuck in your head” challenge. That’s real money.

The 25 Best Movies of 2017 — March 23, 2018

The 25 Best Movies of 2017

Well, this took a lot longer than it should have. I know I’ve been moving away from movie reviews on this blog for a long while, but it’s only because music comes out at a much faster pace and takes up much less time to consume/digest. I still care deeply about movies, and to prove it, here are some of my favorites from 2017. I was holding off on this list until I saw Phantom Thread. I didn’t care for it, but that’s a story for another time. For now, here are my favorites, starting off with some movies I wasn’t able to include.

Honorable mentions:

Lots to talk about here; this was a pretty solid year for movies. I had to give it up for the stylized spy thriller Atomic Blonde. Some felt the film’s convoluted plot set it back, but I thought the killer soundtrack and visual style, as well as the much-discussed “stairwell scene,” were enough to make it up for me. Another female-led action flick, Wonder Woman, impressed me this year, standing on its own better than just about any other superhero movie this decade. Its biopic cousin Professor Marston and the Wonder Women also deserves a mention, bolstered by dynamic direction from Herbie: Fully Loaded director Angela Robinson. Another biopic that I appreciated more than I was expecting was Darkest Hour, which went above and beyond typical Oscar bait through the odd, at-times abstract direction of Joe Wright. Following allegations against James Franco, The Disaster Artist was largely removed from the conversation, but it should be noted that it was a well-done, surprisingly tender picture and one of the year’s best movies about filmmaking. Ingrid Goes West is a terrifying Single White Female for the Instagram era, and star Aubrey Plaza delivered one of the year’s finest performances. Another criminally-underrated, utterly creepy lead performance came from Disney Channel star Ross Lynch, who brilliantly channeled serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the little-recognized My Friend DahmerBeatriz at Dinner was another captivatingly-weird little movie with lots to love, but let’s not limit ourselves to indie movies here. Two of the most fun-filled, visually-stunning blockbusters in recent memory came out this year: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island, the latter of which was perhaps the year’s most pleasant surprise. While it hasn’t left as much of an impression as some of Scorsese’s great films, I still remember being blown away by Silence, and I had to give it a shout-out. Finally, there’s a film that may not deserve top honors, but definitely didn’t get a fair shake: the most underrated film of 2017, Power Rangers. With all that out of the way, here’s the top 25.

25) TRAGEDY GIRLS (dir. Tyler MacIntyre)

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X-women Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp star in Tragedy Girls, the indie comedy horror film best described as a cross between Heathers and Scream with an added helping of gayness and blogging. Immediately, it sounds right up my alley, and the film largely delivered, thanks in no small part to its tremendously-talented young leads. These girls are two of my favorite actresses on the come-up, and they are electric in this movie, creepy in a way that makes them engrossingly likable while still making believable killers. That’s sort of the magic of this movie: as twisted as their plans are, their personalities suck you in, and you can start to understand how they have the whole town wrapped around their finger, even as they blatantly murder people. One of the film’s highlights is a gut-busting cameo by Josh Hutcherson.

24) BATTLE OF THE SEXES (dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

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Battle of the Sexes didn’t make the awards season splash it was aiming for, but don’t count it out just for that, because it’s still one of the best sports movies in recent memory. It’s from the same directing duo responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, and its idyllic harshness is engrossing in much the same way. Admittedly, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, but who’s complaining? It’s a fun, engaging story with excellent dialogue (it was written by Simon Beaufoy, the man behind classics like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) and some of the best homoerotic haircut scenes in film history.

23) THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (dir. Martin McDonagh)

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One of the most debated films of the latest awards season, it seems like everyone’s got an opinion on Three Billboards. I do, too: it’s pretty good. Is it Best Picture? Nah. Its message is muddled and it feels like Martin McDonagh started writing with no idea where the story would go. On the other hand, it is an engrossing, twisted tale with complex characters, tons of unexpected turns, and a stacked cast. It’s a film that could’ve easily been a by-the-numbers, Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy, but instead chose to present a story with no clear heroes, no easy plot signposts, and a message that, while hard to swallow, definitely gives you plenty to chew over.

22) LOGAN LUCKY (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

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Steven Soderbergh is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Going from the fun, stylish, free-wheeling Ocean’s Eleven trilogy to Che, one of the most ambitious films of the 21st century, from pulse-pounding thrillers like Contagion and Haywire to the placid male stripper masterpiece Magic Mike, there’s no telling what Soderbergh’s gonna have for us next, but it’s always a fun time. This year, he gave us Logan Lucky, an endearing Southern-fried heist comedy starring the surprisingly-great duo of Adam Driver and Channing Tatum. The two play bumbling brothers who steal millions from NASCAR with the help of an all-star ensemble cast. Effectively, the film is a sort of reverse-Ocean’s Eleven, replacing fancy suits and high society with DIY ingenuity and stark poverty. It’s a silly movie, but like many of Soderbergh’s sillier movies, there’s more to it than you might think.

21) MOTHER! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

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Mother! was easily the most polarizing film of 2017, and with good reason. It’s not the most welcoming movie: it meanders in placid pointlessness for over an hour before anything exciting happens, but if you give it a chance, the end result is more than rewarding. It wasn’t until I made the very final edits to this list that I even decided to include mother!; I came out of it decently impressed, but not exactly blown away. It’s only really stuck with me the more I’ve thought about it; earlier today, I saw Phantom Thread, a film that attempts a similar structure and, in my opinion, fails utterly. It’s upsetting, hard to sit through, and so blatant in its various larger meanings that it forgoes narrative sense altogether, but mother! will stick with you in a way few movies do.

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018) — March 14, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018)

When I first upped the amount of songs on these lists to 20, I said that it would vary depending on how many songs I wanted to talk about. I’d say this is still true to a certain extent, but 20 happens to be a solid number of songs when it comes to picking the best of the best. Every once in a while, I think of making this a weekly thing, but I think it would eat up a ton of my time and not be up to the same standard as these lists have been so far. Anyway, that’s just me talking. Here’s my favorite new singles to come out in February.

20) NO GOING BACK – Yuno

Here’s a fun little song to kick things off. Jacksonville artist Yuno is the latest signee to the legendary Sub Pop label, and while I’ve never heard any of his other music, this is certainly an impressive start. The song’s most obvious influence is Tame Impala, whose imprint is all over its high-pitched vocals, springy synth beat, and knack for pop songwriting. Whether or not this is emblematic of Yuno’s style, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a solid song.

19) AMERICAN GODS – ONR

If “No Going Back” is influenced by Tame Impala, “American Gods” owes something to Depeche Mode. It’s that same sort of theatric, melancholy ’80s techno-rock, and I kinda love it. ONR is another mysterious new artist, and another one that I’m definitely gonna have to watch for in the future. “American Gods” goes off, and makes you feel powerful in the way only a Depeche Mode disciple could. I think it’s about the president being bad or something.

18) REFLECTIONS ON THE SCREEN – Superorganism

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a Superorganism kick lately. They just put out their new album, it’s excellent, you’ll probably get to hear me talk about it whenever my next album-related list comes out, but for now, let’s talk “Reflections on the Screen.” It’s pretty much par for the course for Superorganism: nature sounds, psychedelic guitar, glitchy pop flourishes, all brought together by the hypnotic voice of 17-year-old lead singer Orono Noguchi. I don’t want to go out on a limb and say they’re the next big thing, but they definitely deserve your attention if you haven’t been paying it already.

17) SATURDAYS – Twin Shadow feat. HAIM

Instrumentally, this song has a definite ’80s vibe to it. Something about the dreamy guitars and those distinctly dated drums. It’s also got HAIM, which is never a bad thing in my book. “Dreamy” is definitely the right word to describe this song. It recalls the ’80s, but not in a way that necessarily has a definitive logic to it. It’s equal parts Belinda Carlisle, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, you name it. It recalls memories of a cool teenage existence that may have never existed. Maybe I’m overselling this. It’s a catchy song.

16) YOU ONLY SAY YOU LOVE ME IN THE DARK – Janice

This song was my first exposure to Swedish R&B singer Janice, and I’m really impressed. Aesthetically, it recalls Lorde’s “Green Light,” full of the same raw emotion and exuberant desperation, but in some senses I like “You Only Say You Love Me in the Dark” more. It’s a little slower, a little more soulful. Or maybe it’s just a “Green Light” clone. Either way, I wouldn’t be complaining, and you know I’m a sucker for long titles.

15) BRXNKS TRUCK – Slim Jxmmi feat. Rae Sremmurd

Pop rap party animals Rae Sremmurd are gearing up for their third album, SR3MM, and mark my words, it’ll change the game. The insanely ambitious project, which from what we’ve seen so far can only be described as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on crack, will be a triple album, consisting of a Swae Lee solo record, a Slim Jxmmi solo record, and a complete Rae Sremmurd album. And this first crop of singles shows a ton of promise. “Brxnks Truck” is our first introduction to the solo Slim Jxmmi, and it’s a compelling one at that. Swae Lee is much of the emotional core of the group, which is why everyone was quick to pin him as the pop solo star, but Jxmmi brings an energy that can’t be understated. It’s a short, frenetic trap track that proves Jxmmi is more than capable of turning up all by himself.

14) TOY – Young Fathers

This is a weird-ass song, and one I’m not sure I could do justice in describing, but it’s so mesmerizingly unique that I had to include it. Young Fathers are a Mercury Prize-winning alternative hip hop group who bring a rocking European energy to their music that sets it apart from this planet. The result is some beautiful medium between Gorillaz and Death Grips, a fun, manic, wildly inventive song off an album that can’t be missed.

13) ROSE-COLORED BOY – Paramore

Yup, I’m back at it again with the new-wave inspired pop rock bops off Paramore’s incredible 2017 album After Laughter, the likes of which I’ve included on these lists three or four times at this point. I’m sorry, but they’re all really good. “Rose-Colored Boy” sets itself apart with that cheery Go-Go’s-esque hook. “No heat! No pressure!” I’ve been thinking about all those mid-’00s pop punk bands, and while I’m a fan of most of them, I’m developing the idea that After Laughter is the best album any of them ever released. It’s extremely good, and given that every Paramore album has been substantially better than the last, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

12) LOOK BACK – Diplo feat. DRAM

In case you haven’t heard, the latest thing in EDM is doing something that’s explicitly not EDM. Calvin Harris started the train with his masterful funk-pop album last year, and now Diplo’s joining with a psychedelic soul track featuring the ever-beautiful pipes of Big Baby DRAM. For an artist with one of the most unique, versatile voices in the game today, “Look Back” finds DRAM in rare form, crooning about his fast and dangerous lifestyle in an aggressively confident falsetto that recalls CeeLo Green in his prime. And of course, you’ve gotta give it up to Diplo here, who steps out of his sonic comfort zones to magical results.

11) MY ENEMY – CHVRCHES feat. Matt Berninger

We’ve got CHVRCHES on the list for the second month in a row, and this time they’re joined by lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger. I’m a fan of both of these bands, and like the collaboration between BØRNS and Lana Del Rey earlier this year, the combination here works even better than you’d expect. The sleek poppiness of CHVRCHES adds onto The National’s stark melancholy to create a Genesis-like blend of contemplative lyrics and hard-hitting synths. It’s got that devastation National fans are looking for, and it’s pretty damn catchy to boot.

10) DOIHAVETHESAUSE? – Ski Mask the Slump God

If you find SoundCloud rap dull or lyrically lacking, you probably haven’t been looking hard enough. Sure, the ease of production and distribution means there’ll be a lot of junk, but some of the most exciting music out right now can be found in that neck of the woods. Take, for instance, Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I’ve already sung the praises of before. He’s got funny, inventive lyrics, a unique voice, and insane flows. The lowkey production on this track may deter you, but if you listen with an open ear, you’ll find plenty to love.

9) PRAY FOR ME – The Weeknd feat. Kendrick Lamar

Just to get it out of the way: yes, this is essentially a retread of “Starboy.” But hey, “Starboy” was a good song, and this one’s got Kendrick Lamar. The pulsating electronic instrumental is no Daft Punk production, but it goes hard nonetheless, and melds perfectly with the Weeknd’s soft tones. It also boasts one of Kendrick’s better pop guest verses, though to be fair, the song is off his album. Black Panther: The Album is a game-changer for the art of the soundtrack album, and “Pray for Me” is its most powerful pop single.

8) WE ARE… – Noah Cyrus feat. MØ

In the mad dash to earn a spot on one of these “Songs of the Month” lists, Noah Cyrus has been somewhat of a perennial runner-up. She does the modern pop sound justice, and she’s carved out a unique enough style, but nothing’s ever stuck out to me enough for me to put it on one of these lists. Until now, that is. I think what sold me on this one was the gleeful “WE! ARE! FUCKED!” that begins the chorus. Lyrically, the song could definitely be considered “fake deep,” railing on the woes of her and her “lost” generation. It’s also catchy as all hell, and utilizes tone, production, and Noah and MØ’s unique voices to get the idea of the song across in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously to be enjoyed.

7) VINCENT – Ellie Goulding

You know Ellie Goulding as the idiosyncratic pop star who shows up out of nowhere every year or two with a song where you can’t quite tell if it’s annoying or great. Her latest single, “Vincent,” is a subtle, somber ballad covering the song of the same name by Don McLean. I’d obviously never thought to put McLean and Goulding together, but the results certainly speak for themselves. Goulding’s high, heavily-accented voice makes for fun pop jams, but it suits a quieter track really well too. If this is leading into some sort of album, it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes it from here.

6) KRISTI YAMAGUCCI – A$AP Ferg, Denzel Curry, and IDK

A$AP Ferg, IDK, and Denzel Curry are three of the greatest new rappers of the latter half of this decade, but they’re typically relegated to the lower part of these lists (Curry and IDK found themselves at #19 just last month). Something about the way the three of them come together just really did it for me, I suppose. It’s an excellent song, boasting hilarious, hard verses from all three artists and an absolutely killer trap beat courtesy of Frankie P, who’s produced many of Ferg’s beats. Each rapper brings something different to the table, but it all comes together to create an early contender for the best posse cut of the year.

5) THE SHADOW – Millie Turner

I’m kinda not sure if I really like “The Shadow” or I just like all the things it reminds me of. Pop up-and-comer Millie Turner channels everyone from Lorde to Bridgit Mendler to La Roux on this track, and the result is a techno-infused banger with idiosyncratic vocals, strong writing, and a tone that’s triumphant and self-effacing in equal parts. Maybe it reminds me of great pop artists because it’s a great pop song. Maybe Millie Turner is the next great pop artist. We’ll just have to wait and see.

4) HURT TO LOOK – Swae Lee feat. Rae Sremmurd

Speaking of “the next great pop artist,” here’s “Hurt to Look,” the official debut solo single for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, who cut his teeth last summer giving French Montana the biggest hit of his career and has since had his solo debut become one of the most buzzed-about releases of today. On “Hurt to Look,” Swae puts his money where his mouth is, crafting a perfect piece of pop/R&B that encapsulates a mellow melancholy only someone with the unmistakable voice of Swae Lee could bring to the table. Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing this all over the place within the next few months, or possibly something else. After all, SR3MM is dropping one of these days.

3) MAY I – T-Pain feat. Mr. Talkbox

T-Pain’s swingy big band throwback track “May I” dropped to little fanfare as a cut off his album Oblivion late last year, but now that it’s been released as a single, can we please talk about it? This eight-minute R&B magnum opus plays like the culmination of over a decade of T-Pain. It transitions flawlessly from Sinatra to Usher to Pain himself, then explodes into stirring jazz and flips it back into the modern R&B sound it was subtly building all along. This is essentially the T-Pain version of a 20/20 Experience-era Timberlake track, but that’s not a bad thing (no pun intended). It’s maximal, but not to a fault, and it represents T-Pain for what he is: one of the greatest R&B singers alive.

2) MOON RIVER – Frank Ocean

Another cover song? Man, weird month. Anyway, you know I had to secure a top spot for Frank Ocean, possibly the greatest R&B singer alive, who came through this month with the best Valentine’s Day gift any of us could ask for: an achingly beautiful rendition of “Moon River.” This shit will tear your heart out, and that’s all I have to say about it. Just listen to the song, and don’t mind the channel. Frank’s original upload got taken down so I had to attach a reupload.

1) MAKE ME FEEL – Janelle Monáe

As is sometimes the case with these lists, I devoted a minor amount of mental space to asking myself “Are any of these songs good enough? What’s gonna be the absolute best?” And then, as soon as I heard “Make Me Feel,” it was out of the question. This cool, quirky, innovative bisexual anthem with an amazing hook and production by fucking Prince was the song of the month as soon as it came out. See, Janelle just announced her new album Dirty Computer, the fourth installment in her continuing Metropolis Saga, and this (alongside the militant rap track “Django Jane”) was the lead single. I’ve been in love with Janelle for quite some time, but “Make Me Feel” is one of the best songs she’s released to date, and something tells me the album proper will have even more in store. We won’t know until it comes out in April, but this song still stands out as easily the best song of 2018 so far.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (January 2018) — February 19, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (January 2018)

Yup, don’t think I forgot. I’m not even done with my 2017 recap stuff yet. I’m just trying to get all this stuff out without falling behind in anything else, so this list comes to you about a week and a half later than usual. To be fair, there wasn’t a ton of music that really blew me away this month. There was more than enough fodder for a list, to be certain, and 2018 is already shaping up to be an even more interesting year for music than 2017 was, but we’re just getting started here, and things are still kinda just starting to pick up speed. Frankly, I probably could’ve shortened this top a top 15 or even a top 10 without losing much, but I feel like the top 20 is a tradition now, and I did have twenty songs to go off, so let’s kick it.

20) FAVORITE – Leon Thomas feat. Buddy

For those of you who don’t know, Leon Thomas is the young singer and actor who played Andre on the Nickelodeon show Victorious. He also appeared briefly in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, and while he’s been making music for a while, I’m pretty sure this is the first I’ve heard from him. And I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. It’s a really refreshing, catchy R&B/pop track with a unique aesthetic and a cool beat. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Buddy fan, but his nasally sing-song style fits the jaunty piano riff pretty well. I could see myself getting hooked on this song.

19) NO WAVE – IDK feat. Denzel Curry

That’s right, IDK, who made my album of the year list last week with his August album IWasVeryBad, is already back with new music, this time in the form of an absolute banger of a single with Denzel Curry. I’ve always been into Curry, and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t really shown up on one of these lists before, but he certainly delivers on this track. A menacing horror movie instrumental lays the foundation for killer verses by both MCs, a pair of artists who have quickly become some of the most exciting rappers on the come-up these past few years. I might never have thought to put these two together, but the results are undeniable.

18) GIRLFRIEND – Anderson East

Raspy-voiced Southern soul singer Anderson East has only been on my radar for a little more than a month at this point, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard so far. His new album’s pretty good, but I’m pretty sure my favorite track is “Girlfriend,” a barn-burner of a pop song with bombastic production by Avicii accompanying East’s over-the-top vocals. It’s across between East’s rootsy sound and the kind of music John Legend made in La La Land, and I kind of love it.

17) CHLORASEPTIC (REMIX) – Eminem feat. PHresher and 2 Chainz

As someone who’s liked several Eminem albums, including MMLP2, let me just say that his new album, Revival, fucking blows. It’s full of half-baked, uninspired versions of songs he already did five years ago, complete with barely-existent flows, witless lyrics, and bizarre sampling. 90% of the album stands in stark contrast to this remix, released a few weeks after the album proper, which is absolute heat. It opens with an outstanding verse from 2 Chainz, who just can’t seem to lose these days. Next up, there’s PHresher, whose explosive personality makes the song entirely his own. His verse is probably the least impressive on the song, but his personality is so fun to watch that you can easily overlook it. Finally, we get an insanely good verse from Eminem, who hasn’t come this correct in the better part of a decade. Em wraps the song up by promising that he’ll be back, and hopefully when he comes back, he’ll sound a little more like this and a little less like “Remind Me.”

16) ROCKET – En Vogue

So, it looks like En Vogue is back. The ’90s girl group behind classics like “My Lovin'” and “Whatta Man” returned in full force this month with “Rocket,” a soaring ballad written by the ever-underappreciated Ne-Yo. The 40-to-50-something R&B singers sound as excellent as ever, and the production by Curtis “Sauce” Wilson is refreshingly weird. These ’90s R&B revivals don’t always work out so well (lest we forget TLC’s comeback album last year), but I have a really good feeling about this.

15) ERA – PRhyme feat. Dave East

After years of silence, the hip-hop tour de force of Royce da 5’9″ and DJ Premier is gearing up for their second album, PRhyme 2. The first single off the record is “Era,” which showcases the elder statesman Royce looking at the state of his genre. Royce and Preemo are great as always, but the real show-stealer here is Dave East, the young rapper who’s become a perennial favorite for Joe Budden types the world over. His verse on this song is some of the most impressive stuff I’ve seen from him to date, and if this is the kind of stuff PRhyme is bringing out of their guests, I can’t wait to see what else the album has to offer (if the rumored tracklist is real, be on the lookout for CeeLo Green’s verse).

14) SYMPHONY – Towkio feat. Teddy Jackson

I never quite know what to make of Towkio. He looks like a CVS brand Post Malone, but his lyrical stylings are straight off the Savemoney lot and his recent leaning towards a dance pop sound has lead to some really interesting singles. What I can say for sure is that “Symphony” roped me in in a way few of his songs not featuring Chance the Rapper have before. The maximalist instrumentation fits the song’s title well, creating a dizzying feeling of rising action leading up to the orgasmic soulful pipes of Teddy Jackson on the chorus. It’s funny, catchy, and boundlessly enjoyable.

13) AFTER THE STORM – Kali Uchis feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins

When Kali Uchis and Tyler, the Creator come together, it’s always a recipe for success. This mellow cut is just that, a silky smooth track accentuated by a short and sweet verse from Tyler and the funky ways of music legend Bootsy Collins. There’s really not much to say about this song, but that’s kind of the beauty of it: you don’t have to think about it much, just press play and let the chillness wash over you.

12) BEDROOM CALLING – Chromeo feat. The-Dream

Now, when it comes to Chromeo, “chill” is not exactly the word I’d use. The electro-funk duo made their name known making goofy, polished, ’70s-inspired pop jams, and “Bedroom Calling” is no exception. I haven’t liked much of the stuff I’ve heard from The-Dream in the past few years, but he’s actually excellent on this song. His voice seems to morph like a liquid to Chromeo’s sonic container, and the result is a blast of pure joy that’s perfect for letting loose.

11) HOT PINK – Let’s Eat Grandma

I’ll admit that the British art-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma hasn’t really been on my radar until now. What drew me to this track wasn’t the group at all, but the song’s producer: SOPHIE, who made last month’s list with her stellar single “Ponyboy.” This song starts off differently, with an ethereal murkiness that, from what I can tell, is more standard fare for Let’s Eat Grandma. But then the chorus kicks in, and it’s the SOPHIE we know and love. Just an absolutely devastating beat, that type of noise-pop sound that you’ll see a bit in some of Charli XCX’s work where it shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does. Also, the hook is pretty catchy.

10) FILTHY – Justin Timberlake

In these first few weeks of 2018, Justin Timberlake made his third big comeback of the decade with a performance at the Super Bowl and his new album, Man of the Woods. Both have not gotten the warm reception we’re used to from JT. I think anti-Timberlake attitudes have been brewing for over a decade, and as his image shifted towards “Jimmy Fallon of music,” it hit too much of a fever pitch for him to come back with something that’s not amazing. That being said, I like “Filthy.” In fact, I think I like Man of the Woods, but we can deal with that later. “Filthy” is obviously intended to capture the mesmerizing strangeness of “SexyBack,” and to some that cynical cash-in quality may be enough to write it off, but it’s grown on me as a song so much over the past month it’s been out that I decided to throw it on the list. Like “SexyBack” before it, it brazenly defies pop conventions of verse-chorus structure, hooks, etc. But this is “SexyBack” for the uncool era of Justin Timberlake. It’s littered with outdated references, corny attempts at innuendo, and self-aware goofiness that only a dad-era Justin Timberlake could grant us. This is a phase in the graceful aging of Timberlake’s sound, just an awkward one at that.

9) GET OUT – CHVRCHES

After two years of relative quiet, the synth-pop band my brain insists on calling “chavurches” is back with “Get Out,” the first single off their forthcoming record Love Is Dead. The album, which appears to feature contributions from Greg Kurstin, The National, and Eurythmics, already caught my attention, but this single has me interested.  Kurstin’s production (which in the past few years has graced the works of artists like Sia, Beck, Zayn, P!nk, Niall Horan, Foo Fighters, Halsey, Liam Gallagher, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Tegan and Sara, and about every other major artist you could name) is pitch-perfect, both complementing and expanding upon CHVRCHES’ established sound. It’s also one of the band’s catchiest song to date, and shows well for something off this album being CHVRCHES’ big pop crossover single.

8) CORPORATION – Jack White

Speaking on his forthcoming album Boarding House Reach, Jack White recently commented on a lack of spontaneity in modern rock music. I’m not usually one for “_____ ain’t what it used to be” arguments, but “Corporation” and the other singles off said album definitely feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern rock landscape. It’s completely off-the-wall, purposeful and enjoyable yet thoroughly unpredictable. If you needed any further proof that White is one of the finest musicians working today, this record’s got it in spades. It’s practically bursting at the seams with instrumentation, vocals, sounds, and creativity in general.

7) MUSIC IS WORTH LIVING FOR – Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is one of the more unorthodox picks I’ve made for one of these lists to date. Certainly, his hardcore sound sets him apart from any other artist I’ve decided to include, let alone as high up as #7. But truth be told, I’ve always liked the guy. He’s been out of the limelight for pretty much the entire decade, but his incomparable spirit and energy has always endeared him to me, since I first discovered him on some Nickelodeon show he hosted at the turn of the decade. Also, this song’s just great as hell. “Inspirational ballad” is practically its own genre in popular music, but I think it’s been years since I’ve heard a song as great a motivator as this one. If you’ve been feeling down lately and you need something to simultaneously amp you up and make you feel good about the world, this song is for you.

6) BIG BAD WOLF – Lil Wayne

Last month, Lil Wayne dropped Dedication 6: Reloaded, and it’s already a strong contender for the best mixtape of 2018. He is leaking bars on this project, spilling out some of the cleverest shit he ever wrote on song after song after song. And “Big Bad Wolf” is a perfect example of the expert craftsmanship you’ll find on the tape. Over the beat to Blac Youngsta’s “Hip Hopper,” Wayne’s bars build up to a fever pitch over a dizzying four minutes, climaxing in an incredible string of about a hundred things that rhyme with “Antetokounmpo.” Mixtape Weezy’s back, and right when we need him most.

5) I’M GON MAKE U SICK O’ME – Parliament feat. Scarface

Perhaps the most welcome surprise of the month came in the form of “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” the delightful new single by legendary funk band Parliament and legendary rapper Scarface. Scarface is considered by many to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, and P-Funk is easily one of music’s greatest collectives, so obviously a collaboration between the two is bound to be brilliant. And sure enough, this song delivers. It’s brimming with sheer creativity, showing that neither George Clinton nor Scarface is close to running out of steam yet. I’m always a hoe for Parliament, but this song really does go above and beyond. Don’t miss out.

4) STREET LIVIN’ – Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas are also a notorious group, but for much different reasons, I’d say. If you’re wondering what the group many consider to have ruined popular music did to deserve a slot so high on this list, just give this song a listen. First of all, they’ve gotten rid of Fergie, a move that seems to have been pretty beneficial for both acts (that new Fergie album is good, don’t @ me). They’ve also embraced their old school hip-hop roots, trading in shitty electro-pop-rap for jazzy samples and socially-conscious lyrics. Every rapper to put out music in the past year has done the social justice song, but the Peas offer one of the most scathing indictments of America’s systemic race issue to date. The long-maligned will.i.am drops jewels like this:

Listen, they derailed the soul train

And put a nightmare in every Martin Luther King

And privatized prisons are owned by the same

Slave masters that owned the slave trade game

And it’s basically just three minutes of that. Your favorite rapper could learn a thing or two from the Black Eyed Peas.

3) EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY HOUSE – David Byrne

Of course I’m gonna make room for the incomparable David Byrne, who’s got his new album coming out pretty soon. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” has everything you could ask for in a Byrne track: jazzy, complex instrumentation, goofy, artful lyrics, and Byrne himself sing-yelping about his house. Like much of his work, it’s hard to do justice to it in words, but trust me when I say that the Talking Heads frontman is as sharp as ever, and if you like the song (which you will because it’s phenomenal), you should check out his book How Music Works, which dropped late last year.

2) MY MY MY! – Troye Sivan

Looking at the pop landscape in 2017, there’s no denying that its glitchy, pitched-up, stripped-down electro sound was somewhat influenced by Troye Sivan’s 2015 debut. “My My My!” is a whole different side of Troye, one that’s poised and ready for pop superstardom. He’s confident, focused, and has developed a keen sense of pacing and moderation to produce a euphoric ’80s-infused lead single. This song didn’t hit a terribly strong debut in the U.S., but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it blows up over the next couple months. It has that undeniable hit quality, combining the old with the new to create a magnetic force of personality and atmosphere. Hey, speaking of hits:

1) FINESSE (REMIX) – Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B

This is another unorthodox move on my part, as the most popular song to come out in a given month is rarely the best. Then again, the masses can’t always be wrong, and “Finesse” is a perfect goddamn song. I sung this song’s praises way back in 2016 when the 24K Magic album was still fresh, although the Recording Academy would argue it’s as fresh as ever. It’s a brilliant ’90s R&B mash-up made all the more phenomenal by a surprisingly perfect feature from Cardi B, who branches out from her typical trap flow to embody the ’90s with form-fitting dexterity. It’s a song that is, truly, dripping in finesse, and it actually does make sense because it’s one of the most flawlessly-crafted pop songs to come out in recent memory.

Review: Black Coogler — February 18, 2018

Review: Black Coogler

Hey! I’m gonna try to start doing movie reviews again. And what better place to start than the most talked-about movie of the season, Marvel’s Black Panther? The latest superhero blockbuster from Disney is an instant smash, with fans and critics alike lauding it as a bold new step forward for the company and another phenomenal notch on director Ryan Coogler’s increasingly-impressive belt. Does it live up to the hype?

Well, not exactly. To be fair, with hype like that, how could it? It’s definitely one of the finest movies in the MCU, and it’s easy to see why everyone’s creaming their collective jeans over it, but it’s not without its flaws. I think you’ll enjoy this movie most if you don’t go in with any expectations; if you’re expecting a bold, subversive masterpiece, that’s not quite what you’re gonna get. What you will get is a really cool, well-made, intriguing, but relatively straightforward action movie.

To be clear though, I love this movie. Killmonger is streets ahead of every other villain in Marvel history, and T’Challa may be the most interesting hero we’ve seen from them in quite a while. Marvel heroes thus far have generally fallen into four archetypes: cocky smart-ass, bewildered everyman, gentle giant, or sexy assassin. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa doesn’t really fall into any of those categories. In moments of action, you could probably swap him out for any other superhero, but his character has some interesting layers: he’s wise and composed, but not always sure of himself. He’s a young man put in charge of an entire nation, torn between his nation’s past and future. Similarly, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger goes above and beyond Marvel’s standard villain fare: even though his plan ultimately is to use a magic rock to take over the world, his motivations run much deeper, and there are definitely points in the movie where you feel he’s kinda right.

The other stand-out character in the movie is Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s tech genius younger sister who’s hip on what all the kids are into, like the totally timely “what are those” meme. To be fair, that moment is probably the funniest thing in the entire movie. Wright brings a magnetic charm to her portrayal of the character, no doubt a future Marvel fan favorite (consider: an animated Disney princess movie with her in the lead role). Unfortunately, not many of the other characters live up to these three. Lupita Nyong’o feels tragically underused, Andy Serkis is sort of lame as a secondary villain, Angela Bassett was great to see but didn’t add much, and Forest Whitaker played the exact same character he played in Rogue One.

Now, this is a very character-driven movie, but there’s other things to admire about it as well. It’s visually stunning, going above and beyond Coogler’s previous films with tremendous uses of color and cinematography. It also carries a lot more intrigue than a lot of other Marvel films. Other than the Captain America trilogy, Marvel tends to shy away from political fare, but where the Cap films tend towards full-on political thriller, Black Panther deftly balances serious intellectual debate with Marvel action sensibilities. In that sense, it’s similar to Wonder Woman, though it edges that film out mainly in the ways that the Marvel formula trumps the DC formula.

That being said, Black Panther falls a bit flat when it gets too Marvel-y. The action scenes are really cool in the beginning, but dry up a bit in the middle and lean towards full-on sloppiness by the climax. The rushed final battle is the clearest sign of studio interference in the film, and it doesn’t do a particularly good job resolving anything. Also, the CGI is weirdly bad? Like, there are a lot of moments in this movie that look like they belong in one of the Star Wars prequels, or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, not a Marvel movie in 2018. Given that the film had a higher budget than Thor: Ragnarok, there are a number of ways in which it feels bizarrely low-budget. On top of the CG, there’s the fact that it keeps returning to the same few sets, like the Phantom Menace-esque throne room or Shuri’s sparsely-furnished laboratory.

But that’s just the bad stuff. Another great thing about this movie is the score. Composer Ludwig Göransson elevates the sound of the film above standard Marvel fare with his unique ear for production, incorporation of African musical cues, and recalling films like The Lion King, which the movie pays deliberate homage to on several occasions. Adding to the sound of the film is Kendrick Lamar, who offered up a whole album’s worth of original songs (maybe four of which are actually in the movie).

All in all, Black Panther feels like a comic book in a way no movie in the MCU has before it. It’s got vivid characters and worldbuilding, stylish visuals, it’s got real intrigue without taking itself too seriously, and it rolls at a deliberate yet feverish pace. I’d give it a solid A-. It’s probably not the absolute best Marvel movie, but it’s way up there.

Top 50 Best Albums of 2017 — February 10, 2018

Top 50 Best Albums of 2017

Yes, the wait is finally over. These are my top 50 favorite albums of 2017. The wait has been long, and while I can’t promise this list is any good, it allowed me to reflect on a lot of the great and not-so-great music released this year. In my opinion, 2017 saw a lot of exciting new artists and sounds, but didn’t have quite the wealth of excellent albums we got in 2016. I mean, Bruno Mars just won the Grammy for Album of the Year, and his album didn’t even come out in 2017, and he kinda deserved it. Still, it was a real struggle to narrow this list down from the 200+ albums that made my shortlist, and a lot of excellent albums got left in the dust. For instance, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Belly’s Mumble Rap, Foo Fighters’ Concrete & Gold, HAIM’s Something to Tell You, the National’s Sleep Well Beast, and Syd’s Fin. With that out of the way, let’s get things started with one of 2017’s most revelatory debut solo outings.

50) HARRY STYLES – Harry Styles

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Harry Styles, the album, suffered from a typical case: a finely-tuned, perfectly solid record terminally overshadowed by its lead single. Sure, “Sign of the Times” was a perfect move for Harry Styles: an undeniable, breathtaking single to elevate him from boy band leftovers to exciting pop up-and-comer. But of course, there’s no way the rest of the album could live up to it. Still, “Sign of the Times” fits neatly in the album’s winsome catalogue of capable, resonant throwbacks. One Direction’s solo outings have yielded mixed results, but at the very least, it can be said that Harry’s got it going on. Niall’s album was pretty good, too.

Best songs: “Sign of the Times,” “Carolina,” “Only Angel,” “Kiwi”

Worst song: “Sweet Creature”

49) NO DATA – Daye Jack

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There were a lot of exciting breakthrough albums by up-and-coming rappers this year (as there are every year these days), but one of the most tragically overlooked has to be Daye Jack’s phenomenal, retro-futuristic debut LP No Data. The album combines space-age grooves and pounding hip hop to create something fresh and thoroughly enjoyable. The apparent Justin Timberlake influence lends itself to Daye Jack’s still-hungry raps and surprisingly solid singing voice. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard anything from Jack before this year, but his suave, fluid energy is sure to keep me coming back for more.

Best: “Deep End (Jayvon Remix),” “Finish Line,” “Bully Bully,” “Casino”

Worst: “Lady Villain”

48) THE DESATURATING SEVEN – Primus

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Primus isn’t exactly a love-’em-or-hate-’em band, but they’re pretty close. In their transition from exciting new sound to weirdo-rock legends, they’ve always had their fair share of detractors. The Desaturating Seven, their latest album and the first since 2011 to feature their original lineup, is no exception. To some, Primus’ whole “thing” is exhausting, but criticisms for this album also noted its unusually short length and relatively unchanging sound. I can certainly see where folks are coming from, but I was sort of sold on this album from the get-go. In addition to its unique concept (it’s based on an Italian children’s book about rainbow goblins), it also features some tightest songwriting of Primus’ entire career, as well as some absolutely jaw-dropping bass playing by frontman Les Claypool.

Best: “The Seven,” “The Trek,” “The Scheme”

Worst: “The Ends?”

47) BOO BOO – Toro y Moi

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I’ve known about Chaz Bear’s lo-fi Toro y Moi project for a while now, and I’ve always liked the guy, but something about it never quite stuck with me, up until Boo BooBoo Boo is a gorgeous album, quiet and ambient with an undeniable groove that sets it apart from the rest. It’s fun, it’s bittersweet, it’s personal, it’s full of captivating quirks in writing and production that give it what Chaz just might have needed all along: personality. To purists, it may read as Bear “going pop,” but the pep and polish gives it an aesthetic that sets it apart from past Toro y Moi albums and makes for something fun, thoughtful, and new.

Best: “Mirage,” “Mona Lisa,” “Don’t Try,” “Labyrinth”

Worst: “Windows”

46) GOOD FOR YOU – Aminé

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Amine first found a following in 2016 with his delightful breakthrough hit “Caroline.” The single boasted a kooky instrumental, off-the-wall sense of humor, and penchant for pop culture. With that in mind, Good for You delivered everything we could’ve hoped for. I’d challenge anyone to listen to this album without smiling, which is saying a lot because there’s a lot of great albums that’ll never elicit anything close to a smile. This breezy, bouncy, at times impressively insightful record is one of the better feel-good rap albums I’ve ever heard, and it sets Aminé apart as an artist apart from his contemporaries, a voice we’ve yet to hear in hip hop.

Best: “Spice Girl,” “Wedding Crashers (feat. Offset)”, “Sundays,” “Heebiejeebies”

Worst: “STFU”

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